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Historical sanatorium lost in fire

Radikal: Istanbul | 10/20/2009 12:00:00 AM |

The famous sanatorium also known as 'the tuberculosis hospital' on Heybeliada, the second-largest of the Princes' Islands, was destroyed by a fire Sunday.

A fire destroyed the famous sanatorium known as “the tuberculosis hospital” on Heybeliada, the second-largest of Istanbul’s Princes’ Islands, on Sunday.

The 84-year-old building housed many famous patients in its time, including İsmet İnönü, Rıfat Ilgaz and Ece Ayhan. It was abandoned four years ago.

The Heybeliada Sanatorium was built on a vast piece of land surrounded by pine trees with a sea view from high cliffs and was an ideal retreat for tuberculosis patients back in the days when the disease was commonly fatal in Turkey. The sanatorium was opened one year after the founding of the Republic in 1923. The previously Greek-owned building was transformed upon instructions from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey.

Tevfik İsmail Gökçe was the famous head doctor of the sanatorium in its early days. Since no exact cure for tuberculosis was known at that time, fresh air and the consumption of a lot of meat were the remedies suggested to patients. As a result, the sanatorium went through two tons of meat each week.

Many of the patients were students from across Anatolia who had come to Istanbul to receive an education. They would rest by the sea and have long conversations that extended through the night, building friendships and lifting their morale. Concerts were organized and movies shown once a week. The sanatorium also had a rehabilitation center where master craftsmen taught the patients their trades, giving them skills to use after their release.

The hospital, however, suffered from serious neglect as the years went by. Although it had made a name for itself in thoracic surgery, the facilities lacked proper equipment and hygiene became a major problem. These issues led the hospital to close its doors four years ago due to “the difficulty of transportation over the water and the lack of patients.”

Some of the patients were released, while others were transferred to other medical facilities, leaving nothing but two abandoned buildings and pine trees behind. The residents of the island were saddened to see the sanatorium closed. There were hopes for it to be converted into a university, but nothing came of this idea.

The final blow came with the fire that erupted around 9:30 p.m. Sunday evening. The island’s firefighting team made the first contact, but their efforts were insufficient. Additional firefighters from Kadıköy, Kartal and Maltepe were sent to the island, but arrived too late. The upper floors crashed down, turning the historical sanatorium into a wreck. The only consolation was that the fire was brought under control before it reached the trees surrounding the building.

Some island residents suspect the fire may not have been an accident, but a work of sabotage. Since the sanatorium had an unmatched sea view, they say, it might have been destroyed by people who wanted the vast land it was built on.

“It used to be a world-class hospital. The patients were accepted via a waiting list due to overcrowding. The hospital’s land is very valuable,” said an island resident who worked at the sanatorium for 23 years and preferred to remain anonymous. “I believe it was burned down for commercial purposes.”

“There has been no electricity for the buildings since the hospital was closed. Only the management section had electricity; it is a completely dark forest area,” the former worker added, suggesting that an act of sabotage may have been conducted under cover of darkness.

Other island residents, who also preferred to remain anonymous, claimed there were intentions to sell the sanatorium’s land.

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