Greek Architects of Istanbul During the Era of Westernization

Our new writing and reporting intern, Brandon Carter interviewed Marina Drymalitou about the upcoming exhibition at the Turkish Cultural Center, which we are proudly co-sponsoring. Thanks to both of them! Check out the exhibition if you’re near the Cultural Center. It sounds fantastic! The opening is May 12th and a part of the On the Table Event with the Chicago Community Trust! – Eleanor Peck, Director of Communications

Brandon: Can you tell me a little bit about how this exhibit came to fruition?
Marina: The idea of the exhibition was of Mr. Laki Vingas, member of the Greek community of Istanbul and manager of the projects, whose father had been a successful architect of his generation. Through him he got familiarized with the works and heritage that Greek Architects had left in Istanbul. On the occasion of the Istanbul as a Cultural Capital of Europe in 2010, we applied to the responsible Agency to realize the exhibition as part of the activities for the cultural capital. The project was approved by the Agency and for the first time a project coming from a minority got funded by state funds. The project “Greek Architects of Istanbul in the Era of Westernization” comprised of an exhibition and a book on the same subject. The project was also co-funded by the Loannis Latsis Public Benefit Foundation. The Zographeion High School Alumni Association organized the project which is now supported by the Association for the Support of the Greek Community’s Foundations (

Brandon:  How do you think this exhibit has affected the Turkish and Greek orthodox communities in Chicago?

Marina: The exhibit after it was presented in Istanbul travelled to several destinations in Greece including Athens and Thessaloniki. Last October was first showed in the US which made us very proud as through the exhibition our aim is to promote the common cultural heritage of both communities who have shared their past in the city for many centuries. In addition, it is a tribute to this great eternal world capital, Istanbul. Therefore, we believe that wherever it is presented it offers a channel to bring together both peoples by focusing on shared cultural past. It was very rewarding to see receive such a positive feedback from Turkish people who happened to visit the exhibit during its first show at Loyola University.

Brandon: Do you think other cultural communities with turbulent histories can learn from the cooperation done between the Greek and Turkish communities in Chicago?

Marina: Of course, I believe that such collaborations present an excellent example for other communities to come closer and know each other. Culture had always been a unique instrument to help people overcome their stereotypes, focus on their same values and invest in a common future.

Brandon:  What impact can the work between the Greek and Turkish communities have on the relations between the two countries?

Marina: As the rapprochement of both communities in social level improves and civil society initiatives become more intensive we have seen that barriers of the past are being removed and both peoples are coming closer. This favourable climate enables the cooperation in various levels and certainly has a positive effect in the relations of both countries. I hope that such initiatives and collaborations will become more consolidated and formal in the future.

Brandon:  Was Greek architecture used for a certain type of building in particular in Turkey?

Marina: The Greeks constituted the majority among the architects who had greatly contributed to Istanbul’s architecture. Today the buildings in certain districts of Istanbul are still standing with all their magnificence form the splendor of that architectural character. They vary from big state buildings to commercial buildings and apartments and show great differences from other works as they reflect a prominent Greek individuality. They had been influenced by the styles that prevailed in Europe in the same period however they tend to use ancient Greek elements and details such as archaic pillars and antefixes. The exhibition displays the contribution of these architects for whom we have very little or sometimes no information, however, their works have played great role in the Westernization process of Istanbul.

Brandon:  Would you say that the adoption of Greek architecture facilitated an easier cultural understanding between Greece and Turkey? What do you think the Greeks and Turks learned from one another as a result of Turkey using Greek architecture?

Marina: There is not one architectural style that characterizes either Turkish or Greek architecture of that period. However, as non-Muslim architects (Greeks, Armenians, Levantine) constituted the majority during the late 19th and early 20th century, Turkish architects of the next generation certainly had been influenced by the works of their predecessors and adopted the innovative forms they used. Therefore, architecture which is an important element that shapes people’s daily life and influences deeply people’s perception of the city, has been one of those sectors of cultural exchange and tolerance.

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