I strongly favor keeping the old architecture alive, restoration, repurposing and keeping the texture of cities and towns to the extent possible. This, I see in Rhode Island where I live, and nearby states. In fact, I saw 100-year-old photographs of New York compared to photographs taken from the same locations, and the texture and fabric of the locales have been maintained remarkably well. I am going to refrain from making comments about the changes in Istanbul, which is a future post. This post is about Taxiarches, an old Eastern Orthodox church on the island of Cunda in Ayvalik. The above photograph shows its restored and structurally sound interior. Why complain?
I visited the Taxiarches Church many times and every time I felt sorry for the structure in total disrepair and feared that it might collapse at any time. The columns mostly shed their plaster, showing their wooden skeleton; the ceiling barely there; all the frescoes defaced and faded, and the floors creaking as if they would break under my feet. I am not an architect or art historian, so I cannot speak to the significance of the building. But it always appeared as if begging for some help.
This year we visited Cunda again and went to see the newly restored Taxiarches Church housing the Rahmi Koç Museum. As we slowly walked towards the building the clean façade, robust stonework made it pleasantly clear that the structure received the attention it very much needed. We bought our tickets and entered the building to see the cleaned up and nicely restored ceiling, the solid-looking columns, the sturdy floor and … the contents of the museum!
As nice as the restoration had been, the cluttered collection inside made no sense at all. The odds and ends Mr. Koç, a prominent industrialist, has collected as a hobby seemed to have spilled over his earlier museums and found a home here in Taxiarches. Scale car models, a set of Morgans, greeted us in the first glass case sitting in front of an old car and a phaeton carriage. In another display case, some medical equipment like syringes were on display. Behind them, a steam engine, a display case full of nautical instruments, and many other odd items created an organized clutter.
As grateful as I felt for the restoration of the building, I felt equally disappointed for the use of the space, a fancy storage facility for unrelated items. Now, I may very well be wrong in this assessment, museum experts, art historians may have a different take on the function of the space. The area behind the altar had a glass or other transparent material for the floor showing the lower level and its contents. That might make sense to provide more information about the structure showing what is below and the columns extending below the floor level. However, the large piece of equipment with its large wheels sitting in front of frescoes served mere incongruity. I fully realize the strong roots of olive and olive in Ayvalık, but a large olive press in the courtyard was equally odd, with an old streetlamp no less!
I hope that Mr. Koç will seriously reconsider the use and build a suitable modern structure or find an old storage facility to restore and move his collection there. That will allow the church to be used for other cultural and religious functions. I can think of prayer services on special days; a venue for concerts, various conferences, town meetings; and the like. I even have a suggestion for Mr. Koç for a museum, the abandoned orphanage not too far from Taxiarches. That would make a gorgeous space for a museum.
That’s when I will be profoundly grateful for his generosity.