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The Saint Antoine de Padoue Church stands on your right on your way from Tünel to Galasaray, a good example of Italian noe-gothic architecture, the building is hardly recognised by the passers-by. Being the biggest church in İstanbul, it was first built in 1725 for the citizens of Catholic countries and their families working for the Ottomon Empire. The history of the church is full of surprises.

Born and raised in Assisi in central Italy in the 12th century, Giovanni Bernardone, aka Francesco, is a pleasure-seeking son of a wealthy family. However, he is captured as a prisoner of war during a battle in Prugia and spends almost a year in prison. Following his days in pain and suffering, he sequesters himself from wordly pleasures and devotes his soul to praising the poverty of Jesus Christ and inviting people to live likewise. Those were the times when almost everybody devoted their souls to God and Christ, and lived in destitution and misery.

Bernardone, too, retires from carnal pleasures and gets down to beg in front of the churches, claims he hears from the invisible world, and starts together around him a group of quite dedicated believers. Later on, he declares himself a saint and takes the name St. Francesco.

His follewers soon grow influential and manage to receive the Papal support, and become to be known as "the Franciscans". In 1219, a group of the Franciscans go to Egypt and Palestine, while another group decides to visit Constantinople, under the Latin occupation at that time. They are given residences both within the city walls and in Galata, and they are permitted to build up their own church. Upon the restoration of the Roman dominance after the Latins are expelled in 1261, the Franciscan activities are impeded and their church are consigned upon the Dominicans.

As a kind of compensation, the Venetians give them the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church in Galata; however, the church is torn down by Atanasios the Patriarch in 1307. Almost a century passes and they finally build the Saint Francesco Church on the same spot, thanks to the financial support from Pope Eugenio IV.

After the Turkish conquest of Constantinopole, the Franciscans establish and maintain good relations with the new rulers. It is known that Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror once stayed in their monastery as a guest. The Saint Francesco Church cannot survive the fires of 1639 and 1660, and the land stays vacant until 1697, when Gülnüş Emetullah Valide Sultan Mosque is built. The Franciscans are donated by a new building land in 1724, but it is not until two hundred years later that they are permitted to build a new church. Meanwhile, another building, formerly built as the clerical school for the Conventuel priests, is repaired and transformed in to a church/monastery by the mediation of the French delegancy of the time in 1721. The buildings are burnt down in the fire in 1762, to be rebuilt next year. However, the new church is, again, burnt down in 1831. Upon these unfortunate events, the next church building is decided to be of stone. The church is built in a very short time on a limited budged collectively gathered by the Latin community. However, again, it cannot last long anough, either: it falls uncared for in time, and the front part of the yard is condemned during the development works of Cadde-i Kebir.

The year now is 1871 and a building, called by the French as "cafe chantant", is turned into a cabaret. This building is completely burnt down in 1874, and is rebuilt next year as an all-year- round facility under the management of Maria Andreas. This building, which expands and becomes an illegal gambling place in time, is not shown on the Beyoğlu map of 1882. The Franciscans are by now a community that does not have a church of their own since 1724, and they want to buy this building in 1891, with the support of the Latins. The difference between the asked price and the amount of money offered is great, so the purchase fails. The venue is redecorated and opend in 1904 under the nama of the Concordia Theatre and garden. The Franciscans re-attempt to buy the place in 1906, and this time the parties make the deal.

Guilio Mongeri and his associate Edoardo de Nari are assigned as the architects of Saint Antoine de Padoue Church, shortly know as Saint Antoine, and Guglielmo Semprini becomes the contractor. The constructions takes as long as six years and the church is finally opened with a grand mass on 15 February, 1912.

Guilio Mongeri, an İStanbul-born Levantine, shows in his work the influences of "Stile Boito", a style created by Camillo Boito, Mongeri's architecture tutor in Accademia di Brera in Milan, by individually interpreting the neogothic currents of his time. The church stands on your right on your way from Tunnel to Galatasaray, just a couple of buildings before Mısır Apartmanı.

The main body of the building is characterised by its triple-arched entrance. Two 5-storey apartment buildings on both sides of the main building were built to provide financial support for the church.

However, these architecturally and culturally significant apartments are overshadowed by the fame and popularity of the church.

Saint Antoine Church is a very well known place in İstanbul, especially with its popular midnight Chritmas Masses. It has become such a popular and touristy place that its regular congregation complains about the crowd on important ritual days.

Architecturally, the church is a Latin-cross shaped structure of about 20 x 50 meters, placed on the east-west axis on an area declining eastward. The internal height is 23 meters but the eastern wall is higher than 50 meters due to declivity. The main apsis shows a pentagonal eastward protrusion. The bell tower is placed on the southern apsis on this protrusion. The church is one of the first reinforced-concrete buildings in Beyoğlu, and the outside of the structure is coated with brick.

The Saint Antoine de Padoue Church is a good example of Italian neo-gothic architecture, which is quite common in northern Italy, and is a significant part of the colourful and multi-cultural character of İstanbul. It is also an undeniable sign of the spirit of tolerance in İstanbul throughout history.

We hope that you do not miss these buildings of exceptional architecture next time you walk along the İstiklal Street, and that we celebrate its centenary all together in the very near future.