This rather desolate but undeniably beautiful building was constructed in 1873 by the Greek Orthodox congregation of Cunda Island, off the west coast of Turkey. I watched magnificent sunsets from the hill-top restaurant here when I visited recently, and the memory helps me blot out the heavy rain and storm clouds which beset me as I gaze across North London on this gloomiest of days.
There were at the time of construction about nine thousand Greeks on the island and their new church was dedicated to Taxiarches – the archangels Michael and Gabriel. Now, almost a century and a half on, it is still the island’s most important monumental structure.
The style is neo-classical and much of the building, including dual columns, pilasters, supporting architraves and the frontal triangular pediment are made from the local stone, in Turkish sarimsak tasi (‘garlic stone’). The whole church constitutes a single-dome basilica on a rectangular foundation. Only one of its bell towers has survived.
The building owes its excellent condition to the designation in 1976 of a large part of the island as a cultural heritage site. Artists and restoration experts have been busily transforming it in recent years and it was re-opened in 2014 as a museum, the Ayvalik Rahmi M Koc Museum.
If it no longer functions as a church, it can still be admired by visitors for its architectural beauty and interior displays. I did find one of those displays rather touching and ironic, however, in light of what happened to the original Greek community…