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Fener: The Seat of the Patriarchate

Updated: Apr 13


(Source: 1845 map, courtesy of Murat Güvenç)

At the end of Mehmed II's conquest of Constantinople (1453), the Byzantine Empire made its last stand at the St. Mary of the Mongols Church in the district of Fener. This same district would later house the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The new Patriarch, appointed by the Sultan, moved seats multiple times before finally arriving at the St. George Church of Fener. This new Patriarchal Church, built in 1597 and enlarged in 1614, echoed the traditional Byzantine marble design and the surrounding neighborhood would become the epicenter for Greek elites who will be called "Phanariots" because of their association with this quarter in future centuries.

The waterfront of Fener (Source: Wikimedia Foundation)

Map of Fener (Source: 1845 HARITA map, courtesy of Murat Güvenç)

Because adherents of Eastern Orthodoxy were not eligible for military or administrative positions in the Ottoman Empire, those who did rise to elite status usually did so by means of trade and artisanal work. As these elites built their households they did so as to be in close proximity to the Patriarchate to whom they had financial and patronage connections. Later on, their merchant origins were surpassed by their growing role in Ottoman governance as intermediaries between the Greek Orthodox and Ottomans. Greek Orthodox elites financially supported the Patriarch of Constantinople and received social legitimacy as a result of their ties to the Patriarchate. These elites came to be known as Phanariots, named after the neighborhood.


The Greek Orthodox College (Source: Wikimedia Foundation)

A key institution in the Fener quarter was the Greek Orthodox College. The institution of the college itself was founded in 1454 by the Greek Orthodox patriarch; however, the current building was established in 1881 and is based on the numerous different architectural styles found throughout the Hellenic World. Further displaying its diverse influences, the school, in its five hundred years of operation, has been called by many names: “The Patriarchate Academy,” the “Red School,” the “First Academy,” and “Mekteb-i Kebir.” Its current name, the Phanar Greek Orthodox College, pays homage to its location. In 1454, the Greek elites who had fled into the Aegean archipelago during the conquest of Constantinople were called back by Fatih Sultan Mehmet to continue their practices including education. With the approval of the Sultan, Patriarch Gennadios established the school to educate top Greek officials, such as translators, the Wallachian and Moldavian governors, the patriarchs themselves, as well as numerous lesser religious officials. With this intellectual advance, the Phanariots were able to grow their wealth, power, and prestige.

St. George Church of the Ecumenical Patriarchate

In the eighteenth century, these Phanariot Greek elites 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. Shortly after the outbreak of the War, a mob attacked Fener—slaughtering many of its inhabitants and burning mansions in the neighborhood—and the Sultan's recent execution of the incumbent Ecumenical Patriarch Gregorios V, intensifying support for the rebels. Following the massacre and a Greek victory in the independence war, Phanariots began leaving the neighborhood in large numbers and with many of them suffering severe reprisals for their key role in supporting independence.


Daniel Valentine Rivière, Phanariot Greek Ladies (Source: Pera Museum Collection)

Over the nineteenth century’s course, many of these “neo-Phanariots” began establishing themselves as a new Greek elite; however, these new elites largely lived not in Fener, but in the neighborhood of Pera, now referred to as Beyoğlu, and further away in the villages on the shores of the Bosphorus. Fener itself remained overwhelmingly Greek until the early twentieth century, when World War I and the Ottoman Empire’s collapse triggered drastic demographic upheaval.


 

References


Cerasi, Maurice. "The formation of Ottoman house types: a comparative study in interaction with neighboring cultures." Muqarnas 15 (1998): 116-156.


Cobham, Claude Delaval. The Patriarchs of Constantinople. Cambridge University Press, 2016.


Philliou, Christine M. Biography of an empire: governing Ottomans in an age of revolution. University of California Press, 2011.


“FENER.” n.d. TDV İslâm Ansiklopedisi. Accessed July 7, 2023. https://islamansiklopedisi.org.tr/fener.


Nobuyoshi, Fujinami. "The Patriarchal Crisis of 1910 and Constitutional Logic: Ottoman Greeks' Dual Role in the Second Constitutional Politics." Journal of Modern Greek Studies 27, no. 1 (2009): 1-30.


“Özel Fener Rum Ortaokulu ve Lisesi.” 2022. Fener Rum Lisesi. July 25, 2022. https://fenerrumlisesi.k12.tr.


Συνεισφέροντες στα εγχειρήματα Wikimedia. 2006. “συνοικία της Κωνσταντινούπολης.” Wikipedia.org. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. October 6, 2006. https://el.wikipedia.org/wiki/%CE%A6%CE%B1%CE%BD%CE%AC%CF%81%CE%B9.


“The Neighorbourhoods of Fatih, Fener and Balat.” 2014. TOOISTANBUL, Visit Istanbul, Planning Stay at Istanbul. April 25, 2014. https://www.tooistanbul.com/en/istanbul-fatih-fener-balat/.


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