At İstiklal avenue, a almost 3km pedestrian street at Beyoğlu neighbourhood and the most known pedestrian street in Istanbul, with never-ending shops, cafes, restaurants and urban passages, one will notice a rather not so commercial building at number 60: Sismanoglio Megaro. At first glance, its 19th century façade and its volume engage perfectly with its surroundings, in this street full of European-style residential buildings, churches and embassies. This building is the residence of Greece General Ambassador and shares an important history, totally connected to the relationships of the two countries over the years.
Since 2009, it has become the core of promoting Greek culture in Turkey and creating strong inter-cultural relationships between the two countries. Art exhibitions, tandem language lessons, certification centre for the Greek language, library (which also includes Sakoulidis historical collection with books of the 17th century written in a Turkish dialect but with the Greek alphabet), film and music festivals are activities that gather many Turkish people weekly in the 3-floors of Sismanoglio Megaro. This consulate manages to be something more than a building with specific geographical barriers.
The building was constructed at 1890, when Istiklal Caddesi was mentioned as Grande Rue de Pera and was the centre for European foreigners in Istanbul which was called at that time Constantinople. With all its European style consumption, foreign embassies, rich mansions, non-Turkish population and foreigners being the majority of the habitants, the area was considered to be the cosmopolitan district of the city. One could imagine the importance of owning a house at this street, with half-European and half-Asian culture. Its western-influenced façade, symmetric and overall simple with exquisite details is a part of the broad context of the architecture styles that mark İstiklal Caddesi until today.
Sismanoglio Megaro used to be the residence of Sismanoglou family, a rich and well-known family from Kapadokia. Ioannis Sismanoglou was a merchant and was deputed by the Othoman government to be a part of the Banker’s Committee at the late 19th century. He partially financed the building of Fener Rum Erkek Lisesi (Megali tou Genous Sxoli), which until today works as a school for Greek students in Istanbul. Ever since, his family contributed multiply to Greece and the Greeks in Turkey. He had 3 sons, Constantine, Anastasios and Alexandros. Alexandros died in a very young age, but his brothers took over the family business and continued supporting Hellenism. In November 1939, Constantine donated the house where he and his brothers grew up to the Greek government, in terms that it would be used as the building of Consulate General of Greece in Istanbul.
After 1939, a rough time for the relationship between the two countries, the building struggled to fulfil its aim and was empty for almost 15 years. It was rented by USIS (United State Information Service) from 1957 until 1962 and it was during that period that the ground floor was changed, so that 3 stores could be created there. In 1973 the building was listed as a building that should be preserved. After 1999, the relationships between the two countries improved and restoration and repairing actions could take place. In September 2003, the building was ready.
Ever since, it has become the cultural centre of consulate general of Greece. In 5 years, it has managed to carry out 208 cultural events and to attract almost 600 Turkish students to study Greek and ancient Greek in the free-language-teaching-classes. Sismanoglio Megaro dates back to the late 19th century but still, in the 21th century, marks İstiklal Avenue, with its cultural presence.
Photo Credits: Sismanoglio Megaro Facebook Page