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  • Writer's pictureLara Oge

Phanar / Fener / Φανάρι

Updated: 4 hours ago

Phanar (Φανάρι, Fener) is a neighborhood on the historic peninsula with shores to the Golden Horn. It is the present-day center of the Greek Orthodoxy, though its prominent role dates back to the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Under Ottoman rule, the Greek community of Istanbul gathered in Phanar, establishing the Greek Orthodox College in 1454 and housing the Ecumenical Patriarchate in the Church of St. George in Phanar from 1602 onwards. The group of Greek elites, later named the “Phanariots” after the neighborhood, added to their commercial activities an array of roles in the governance of the Ottoman Empire. They were appointed to positions by the Ottoman state such as the post of the dragoman, starting with Panagiotis Nikousios in 1661, and the Hospodar of Moldavia and Wallachia in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In addition to their roles in commerce and governance, Phanariots became the center of the intellectual and artistic scene in the Greek Orthodox community, and participated in the Ottoman urban culture through their involvement in architecture, literature, and music.

Greek Orthodox College, from the postcard collection of Kemali Söylemezoğlu. (Source: SALT Research)

The word “Phanariot” comes from the name of the neighborhood, which takes its name from the Greek word "phanarion," meaning lantern or lighthouse. The group of Greek elites were named after the neighborhood as they lived near the Patriarchate, to which they provided financial support and in which they enjoyed primacy in and influence on lay and clerical appointments. Phanariots also received social legitimacy in the Ottoman Empire as a result of their ties to the center of Eastern Orthodoxy—only one of the many ways they transformed their commercial and social capital into political power. These developments and dynamics were influential in shaping the modern view of the neighborhood as “traditionally Greek.”

With their esteemed roles in the eighteenth century, Phanariots played a leading role in the Greek Enlightenment, integral to the development of a Greek national consciousness, which eventually led to the Greek War of Independence in 1821. Shortly after the outbreak of the war, a mob attacked Phanar, slaughtering many of its inhabitants and burning mansions in the neighborhood, intensifying support for the rebels. 

The view of Phanar from the Golden Horn, featuring the Greek Orthodox College and the roof of the Patriarchate, ca. 1906. (Source: IBB Atatürk Library Postcard Collection, Krt. 014322.)

After the massacre and Greek victory in the Greek War of Independence, Phanariots began leaving the neighborhood in large numbers, and many suffered severe reprisals for their key role in supporting independence. Over the course of the nineteenth century, a new group of Greek elites began establishing themselves as the “neo-Phanariots” and took up some roles in Ottoman governance. However, these new elites lived not in Phanar but in villages along the Bosporus such as Kuruçeşme and Arnavutköy, and then in the neighborhood of Pera, now referred to as Beyoğlu. This created an understanding of Phanar as the neighborhood that “used to be Greek,” but in reality, Phanar itself remained overwhelmingly Greek until the early twentieth century, until World War I and the Ottoman Empire’s collapse triggered mass deportations of Greek Orthodox from Turkey and Muslims from Greece.

Street view of Phanar mansions (Sources: Die Baukunst Konstantinopels and L’habitation Byzantine)

Today, the neighborhood is not predominantly Greek, though it is still primarily recognized for the active Greek Orthodox College, the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the urban remains of the Greek Phanar.

Church of St. George (Ecumenical Patriarchate)

During his tenure, Patriarch Matthew II moved seats multiple times, finally leaving behind the Church of St. Demetrius Xyloportas and arriving at the Church of St. George in Phanar in 1601 to convert the women’s monastery into the Patriarchate. This relocation is reflected in nineteenth-century Greek scholar Skarlatos Byzantios’ words as:

“Within the Fanar gate is the Greek Patriarchate, synecdochically called ‘the Great Church (Megalē Ekklēsia)’, an echo of the once truly great church of Hagia Sophia, whose function [as Patriarchal See] has been taken up by this low- and timber-roofed, yet spacious church, consecrated in the name of St George.”

Exterior of the Church of St. George, photographed by Cengiz Bektaş in 1991.(Source: SALT Research)

The new center of Orthodoxy was built in 1597 and enlarged in 1614. It echoed the traditional Byzantine marble design. Only about two decades after Patriarch Kallinikos II restored the roof and walls of the church, it burned down in a fire in 1720 and had to be entirely rebuilt. Despite the many renovations it underwent in the past four centuries, the church still retains the early sixth-century basilica structure with its three aisles, as well as the traditional monastic seating arrangement in the nave.

Phanar Greek Orthodox College (Μεγάλη του Γένους Σχολή, Fener Rum Ortodoks Lisesi)



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