Landmark Greek Orthodox church in Taksim seeks respect, new façade
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Hagia Triada was one of the first domed Christian churches to be built during the Tanzimat era, a period in the 19th century in which minority rights under Ottoman rule were relatively loosened. DAILY NEWS photos, Emrah GÜRELSometimes, only a careful pair of eyes can pick out Hagia Triada, a landmark Greek Orthodox church on Istanbul’s Taksim Square, which is enveloped by restaurants, cafes and shops, some of which are reportedly illegal. Its courtyard, once a peaceful spot at the starts of the country’s busiest street, is now filled with the noise of power generators and occasionally the smells of food.
The structures around the 133-year-old church, however, might now be removed, if Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gets his way as part of a controversial redevelopment plan for Taksim Square that has sparked fury in Istanbul and beyond. While somewhat welcome, the June 2 announcement caught the church off-guard.
Yorgo Papalyaris, head of the church’s foundation, told the Hürriyet Daily News in a recent interview that it was important to clear up the areas around the church.
‘End occupation of shops’
“We support the efforts to put an end to the occupation of the shops around it,” he said, referring to some reportedly illegal buildings and additional floors there.
“However, a line of shops has always been there, they could be saved as they generate revenues for the foundation,” he said. These shops are owned by the Balıklı Greek Foundation, which runs a hospital.
The illegal construction work is not limited to areas above ground, according to Papalyaris, who showed the Daily News some tunnels that have been dug toward the church’s courtyard from underground in a bid to gain space.
“We had been continuing a legal struggle for 15 years. However, despite a court order in 2000, illegal buildings were not demolished. The tunnels of some shops are almost touching the foundations of the church,” he said.
The sound from outside sometimes even disturbs services, he said.
Hagia Triada was one of the first domed Christian churches to be built during the Tanzimat era, a period in the 19th century in which minority rights under Ottoman rule were relatively loosened.
Papalyaris said he also found Erdoğan’s remarks surprising, as they came during a time of great tumult in Taksim. Demonstrations to prevent the destruction of trees in nearby Taksim Gezi Park have sparked 10 days of protests that have erupted nationwide.
Papalyaris said church officials had not yet been contacted about the plans announced by the prime minister.
Some prominent brands around the church building told the Daily News that they did not have extra floors but that they were aware of the problems.
“We know that some döner kebab shops have lodges and they have enlarged these floors toward the church,” said executives of Pehlivan Restaurant, which is frequented by Arab and Iranian tourists.
Papalyaris said research was needed to see the real damage. “What happens here is hurting us,” he said. “Some 500 to 600 people visit here every day.”