In the Fener district of Istanbul, up a steep hill from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, sits a regal red brick building. Some call it the Red Castle. Others call it the Big Red School. To Greeks, it’s a symbol of a legacy they left on the city and the Ottoman Empire.
That building is the Great School of the Nation (Μεγάλη του Γένους Σχολή). Founded in 1454, just after the Fall of Constantinople, it was and still is the most prestigious Greek school in Istanbul. This is where several of the most prominent Phanariotes (wealthy Greeks), many of noble Byzantine lineage, received their education. Fener, or Phanar in Greek, became the Greek district of Constantinople after 1453. It was here that the richest Greeks built their mansions and businesses in close proximity to the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The school is still open, but because of a dwindling Greek population due to persecution, deportation, flight, and other factors, there is only a handful of students and teachers. Regardless of these issues, it’s still looked upon with prestige and pride by the remaining community and Greeks around the world.
The building was finished in 1883 by architect Konstantinos Dimadis and funded by Georgios Zariphis, an Ottoman Greek banker. It’s a massive building with very high ceilings and a dome that functions as an astronomical observatory. In my opinion, it’s the most beautiful modern secular building in all of Istanbul.
I had walked by the school several times and had never seen or heard a soul in the yard or anywhere near the entrance. I never thought I would ever have the chance to visit without special advance permission, but this was my lucky day. I heard several children screaming and running out as classes finished for the day. As one of them ran outside, he held the door for me as if to invite me inside. I thanked him and walked up the stairs to the grand entrance. After a quick introduction to the groundskeeper and then a school official inside, I was allowed to walk around on the ground level to take photos.
I was in awe of being able to walk around inside and visit a building that played such an integral role in the history of Ottoman Greeks. I’ll let the rest of the photos speak for themselves.
If visiting the Ecumenical Patriarchate, follow the directions on the map to walk to the school: