The History of Galatasaray High School

The History of Galatasaray High School

Galata Palace Corps and Madrasa, 1481–1868

Founded in the early years of the reign of Bayezid II, the Galata Palace Corps was an educational institution where students of Enderun, the palace institution, received their primary and secondary education. As is well-known, the Enderun students were chosen from among devshirme students who attended the Edirne Palace School, İbrahim Paşa Corps, İskender Çelebi Palaces, or the Galata Palace Corps. These students were referred to as “acemioğlanlar” (rookies or cadets). 

In order for them to adapt to the Ottoman Empire in every field, these boys received language education, primarily Turkish, Arabic, and Persian. They were trained according to their talents in music, calligraphy, and horse riding, as well as traditional sports such as javelin throw and archery at the abovementioned schools. Among those who successfully completed their education, some were selected to attend Enderun while others were assigned as kapıkulu (“servants of the Porte”). In this respect, Galata Palace Corps had been the most important source of the Ottoman Empire for a very long time, and it owed its success to the discipline achieved within its internal organization. The corps included three barracks of 200 people each and a mosque, Turkish bath, and clinic. It was run by 22 “Agha” (chiefs and commanders), one of whom was the head commander (Bashagha).

The corps also included a surgeon, a doctor, a pharmacist, a clerk, a baker, a bath attendant, a laundryman, and an imam. The teaching staff of the school comprised teachers whose salaries were paid by the palace; seven silver coins (akche) per day were provided. Along with competitions and sports activities conducted regularly every afternoon, the liveliest days were the student–parent meetings that were held every Tuesday. In the 17th century, some students participated in the kapikulu revolt that emerged as a result of internal unrest within the empire and insufficient funding, after which time, the Galata Palace corps and İbrahim Paşa Corps were dissolved.

The corps reopened during the reign of Ahmed III (1703–1730) in 1715 and was subordinated to Silahtar Agha. The corps was divided into three classes: junior, middle, and senior. As the school began to regain its previous significance, the sultans began to award the corps. Accordingly, a rich library was formed, with hundreds of books that were sent from the palace during the reign of Mahmud I (1730–1754). However, education experienced a brief interruption, which had continued smoothly until then, due to the Tophane Fire in 1820. 

The school was rebuilt in stone during the reign of Mahmud II (1808–1839), yet dissolved in 1834 when Enderun was abolished. Some buildings were allocated to the Imperial Medical School (Mekteb-i Tıbbıye), and the rest were used as barracks. By 1865, preparatory classes of all military schools (navy, military academy, medical school, and the school of engineering) in Istanbul were brought together under this same roof. 

Mektebi Sultani 1868–1923

Mektebi Sultani (Galatasaray Imperial High School) was established on September 1, 1868 by Sultan Abdülaziz (1861–1876) and began to serve a similar function as it had at its foundation of closing the deficit of educated officers in the crucial ranks of the state. From the 1800’s, the Ottoman Empire began to lose power against the West. As a result, first the Imperial Edict of Reorganization (Tanzimat Fermanı) was issued in 1839 and then the Imperial Reform Edict (Islahat Fermanı) in 1856 to reform the state. Yet, staff that would implement the principles of the westernization movement and make improvements within the desired framework was needed. The staff was sourced from Mektebi Sultani, which was providing education in Turkish and French according to its new structure. However, the school was now accepting students from all religious backgrounds, unlike in previous periods. This drew a reaction from leaders of all respective religions. Indeed, Pope Pius IX declared that the Vatican was going to excommunicate those Catholic subjects of the Ottoman Empire who sent their sons to Mektebi Sultani. Later, the Greek Patriarch banned the school on the grounds that Greek was not being taught, and the Chief Rabbi declared that he did not approve Jewish children for attendance at the school on the rationale that the principal of the school was French. The Sheikh ul-Islam stated that it was not convenient for Christians and Muslims to be at the same place and that the school must be closed immediately. In addition to all these negative reactions, Russia, annoyed by the recent rapprochement between the Ottoman Empire and France, sent a diplomatic note through an envoy, demanding the closure of Mektebi Sultani unless a school that teaches Russian was opened. Nevertheless, against all these reactions, the school opened and began a secular education that was not based on any religion; something that had not even occurred in France during that period. In this way, an institution reflecting the Ottoman understanding, in which everyone was free to perform their own religious duties, without trying to impose his religion onto others, had been established.

The school commenced its first year with 600 students. A boarder paid an annual fee of 45 gold coins, and a day student paid 10. These high prices were difficult for Muslim families to afford and so the government allocated scholarship placements for 50 students. The school accepted students as young as 9, and up to 12 years old. Based on the common languages of the students, Turkish and French preparatory classes were opened as well. Language classes in Arabic and Persian were also included in the program so the students could learn an Ottoman language, and elective language courses included Armenian, Greek, Bulgarian, English, Italian and German. Thanks to the efforts of the first principal of the school, Monsieur De Salve, a distinguished environment was offered to students by procuring many objects from France; from classroom tools and equipment to bedroom furniture. However, following the 1871 Fire of Beyoğlu, the school lost the attention it had received at the beginning. Furthermore, the deaths of Ali Paşa and Fuad Paşa, who were among the school’s advocators, and the rapprochement between Abdülaziz and Russia, negatively impacted the school. Indeed, a sudden decision saw the school swap locations with the Medical School at Gülhane. The recovery of the school only occurred later, in 1880, under the rule of the principal Abdurrahman Şeref Bey. 

When the Second Constitutional Era began, the school was still experiencing the repercussions of the 1907 fire. The fire took place during the semester break, which prevented the loss of any lives, yet many parts of the school, including the archive and the library, were burnt to the ground. After two years of repairs, teaching resumed at Mektebi Sultani. Under the administration of Principal Tevfik Fikret Bey, the school was divided into Turkish and French programs, with a new, three-year structure for each, increasing the total years of education to nine. Piano and violin lessons were included as electives within the art education. Without doubt, the modernist approach taken by Tevfik Fikret Bey became a significant period in the history of the school. The Large Lecture Hall, Tevfik Fikret Hall, the biology, physics, and chemistry labs, and painting and music workshops were buildings and units of study that were added during this period. Yet, hard days awaited the school in the years to follow. Students and teachers were conscripted during the Balkan Wars, and the fact that only five students graduated from the school in 1917 reveals the extent of conscription. Nonetheless, when Principal Salih Arif Bey received news that the British were planning to seize the school, he made an agreement with the French and declared that the school had already been seized by them. As a result, Mektebi Sultani became the only building to fly the Turkish flag on İstiklal Boulevard, apart from the Galatasaray police station and post office. 

Galatasaray High School: The Republican Era

Even though some students of Mektebi Sultani (Galatasaray Imperial High School) who volunteered to join the Turkish War of Independence did not return from the front, the national victory was received with great joy at the school just like everywhere else. From that point, the school took its place as one of the modern educational institutions of the young republic, with the name Galatasaray High School. While the elementary schools that had been providing religious education, such as madrasas and religious minority schools, were closed in accordance with the Unification of Education Act, Galatasaray High School remained open due to its secular character that had been maintained since 1868. Cultural courses began to be taught in Turkish. Atatürk, who placed great importance on education, visited the school three times, demonstrating the regard he had for the institution; what’s more, most of the parliamentarians around him were graduates of Galatasaray High School.

Additionally, becoming co-educational, as prescribed by modern education, saw Galatasaray lead the way for other well-established schools that had continued their conservative attitudes on this matter until the recent past. In 1968, President of France, Charles de Gaulle, visited the school to mark the 100th anniversary of Mektebi Sultani. In 1975, the school acquired the status of Anatolian High School, with the period of study being reduced to eight years based on implementations conducted by the Ministry of Education. Finally, in accordance with a protocol that was signed by the President of France, François Mitterrand, and the 8th Turkish President, Turgut Özal, on April 14, 1992, Galatasaray Integrated Educational Institution (Galatasaray Eğitim Öğretim Kurumu) began to provide education, with the inclusions of the elementary school which had been closed since 1969, and a university unit. 

Galatasaray Integrated Educational Institution was transformed into Galatasaray University under Law no. 3993, which came into effect after it was published in Official Gazette no. 21952 on June 6, 1994. Although the institution acquired the status of a university, it retained its standing as an integrated educational institution; thus, Galatasaray High School, as well as the elementary school under it, was defined as educational units governed by the Office of the President (K.m.1).