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.