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Galatasaray Lisesi (High School)

Galatasaray Lisesi, commonly known in foreign languages with its French name Lycée Galatasaray but originally known as the Galata Sarayı Enderun-u Hümayunu (Galata Palace Imperial School) and later the Galatasaray Mekteb-i Sultanisi (Galatasaray School of the Sultans) in Ottoman Turkish, is one of the most renowned and influential high schools of modern Turkey. Established in 1481, it is the oldest Turkish high school in Istanbul and the second-oldest Turkish educational institution in the city after Istanbul University which was established in 1453.

The name Galatasaray means Galata Palace, as the school is located near Galata, the medieval Genoese citadel at the north of the Golden Horn, which was also known with the alternative name of Pera (Peran en Sykais). Since the 19th century, the name "Pera" is mostly attributed to the larger borough of Beyoğlu which also encompasses the district of Galata.


The history of Galatasaray Lisesi dates back to 1481. The high school started as Galata Sarayı Enderun-u Hümayunu (Galata Palace Imperial School) in its current location in Beyoğlu.

Bayezid II (1447-1512) founded the Galata Sarayı Enderun-u Hümayunu in 1481. Known as the "peaceful Sultan" who repopulated the city of Istanbul after the conquest of 1453, Bayezid II often roamed his domains, disguised as an ordinary citizen. According to a legend, in one of these days, near Galata, on a hilltop, he ran into a wonderful garden with well-groomed red and yellow roses sprouting all over the place. When he stopped to look at the roses, he met Gül Baba (Father Rose), an aged wise man who invites him inside. The Sultan chats with the wise man, trying to gather feedback regarding the state of the Empire and the city which is being repopulated with expelled Jews from Spain, Orthodox Armenians from the eastern provinces, Turks from the Karaman region, etc... Gül Baba tells him that, overall, he is happy with the city and his rose garden and the reign of the Sultan, but he would be much happier if an institution allowing all of these people with diverse backgrounds to get education under a single roof would be established, which, in turn, would raise the wise men to serve the Empire. He also tells the Sultan in disguise that he would be proud to serve as a teacher in this school and lecture these kids and create a generation of valuable subjects to the Empire. Bayezid II carefully listened to Gül Baba with interest, and weeks later returned back to his garden to show him the edict which marked the establishment of the Ottoman Imperial School, on the grounds next to the rose garden, with Gül Baba as its headmaster. Thus, in 1481, the year in which the school was established, Gül Baba became the first headmaster of Galatasaray and administered the school for many years. He later died during the Ottoman raid to Hungary and his tomb is located near Budapest.

In the Ottoman period, when the army went to war, dervishes and minstrels also accompanied them to boost their morale. When the army rested, it was time for prayers and epics. Dervishes and minstrels also used to arm themselves and joined the fighting whenever necessary. Gül Baba was one of these dervishes. Janissaries were fond of the dervishes of the Bektashi order, since they regarded Hacı Bektaş as their convent's chief.

German historian Theodor Menzel believes that Gül Baba's name could have been a nickname, which he probably got from a rose attached to his turban; as "rose" was the sign of being a leader of the Bektashi lodge.

Interim Period (1830-1868)

Galata Palace Imperial School continued with various changes as an educational institution for about 350 years until the 1830s, when, with the movement of reform and reorganization, the Ottoman Empire's old institutions were gradually abolished. In the place of the Galata Palace Imperial School, Sultan Mahmud II (1808-1839) opened the Ottoman Medical School which was largely made up of French professors, and most courses were taught in the French language. The Medical School functioned at the Galata Palace buildings for some thirty years.

Modern Period (1868-1923)

Sultan Abdülaziz (1861-1876) was the first Ottoman sultan to travel to Europe. Invited by Napoleon III, in June-July 1867 he attended the World Exhibition in Paris. He then visited Queen Victoria in London, Wilhelm I in Prussia and Franz Joseph I in Vienna. Sultan Abdülaziz was impressed by the French educational system during his visit, and as soon as he came back to Istanbul he announced the Edict of Public Education, according to which a modern free compulsory education system was established for all children until the age of twelve. In September 1868, influenced by the French Lycée model, a school was established under the name "Lycée Impérial Ottoman de Galata-Sérai" (in Turkish: Galatasaray Mekteb-i Sultanisi). French was the main foreign language of instruction and many of the teachers were foreigners from Europe. The students included members of all religious and ethnic communities of the Ottoman Empire: Turks, Arabs, Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Levantines, Bulgarians, Albanians, etc...

Many of the graduates of this period of some 55 years, coming from various communities, became prominent statesmen, educators, bureaucrats, writers, etc; in Turkey and in other nation-states which were once a part of the Ottoman Empire. Some even served as the first statesmen in their newly established countries in Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia.

The influence of Galatasaray on modern Turkey has been enormous. As the need for administrators, diplomats, and other leaders with a modern education and capacity to handle Western administrative apparatus became more and more pressing, the graduates of Galatasaray came to play these preponderant roles in the politics of the Ottoman Empire and, after it, of the Republic of Turkey.

Lycée de Galatasaray, with its contributions to the Westernization of the "East", came to be considered the "Window to the West".

Since this period, the district where this institution stands has been known as Galatasaray. In 1905, in one of Galatasaray's classrooms, the Galatasaray Soccer Club was founded.

From the establishment of the Republic of Turkey to the Integrated Education System (1923-1992)

With the abolition of the Ottoman Empire and the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, the name of the school was changed to "Galatasaray Lisesi" (Lycée de Galatasaray).

Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, visited Galatasaray 3 times: on December 2, 1930; January 28, 1932; and July 1, 1933.

Education continued to be in Turkish and French, and the school was comprised of an Elementary School (5 years) and a Lycée (7 years) where French Language and Literature, Philosophy, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, English, and German were taught selectively in the last four years.

The school became co-educational in 1965, and female students began to constitute at least 40% of the school's pupils.

One of the main buildings of the Feriye Palace on the Bosphorus, in the Ortaköy district, was also given to Galatasaray when it needed more room for expansion.

Integrated Education System (1992-present)

In the 1990s, Galatasaray entered another period of transformation. The signing of the Turkish-French Bilateral Agreement of 1992 led to the foundation of Galatasaray University which essentially grew out of the Lycée. With the addition of a new primary education school, the three units have emerged as autonomous components of an integrated education system under the aegis of the University.

The admission to the Lycée is by selective exams. Turkish primary school graduates take a very competitive centralized exam if they wish to be enrolled in a limited number of elite public high schools. Galatasaray admits 100 students generally from within the top 750 of about 600,000 candidates. Galatasaray primary education school graduates are also admitted to the Lycée, subject to examination. Lycée graduates may continue their higher education in Galatasaray University, where 25 percent of the enrollment quota is reserved for them, also subject to examination.

Until 1997, Lycée de Galatasaray was an 8-year school, which, for graduates of the 5-year compulsory primary school, involved 2 years of preparatory, 3 years of junior high, and 3 years of senior high school education. Since then, with the introduction of the 8-year compulsory primary education system in Turkey, Galatasaray has become a 5-year senior high school, including 1-year prep, starting from the 2003-2004 academic year.

Galatasaray, being a boarding school, has a richly diverse student body, with boys and girls coming from every corner of the country. The current curriculum consists of a blend of Turkish and French curricula, plus a number of additional language and elective courses. Courses on Turkish Literature, Geography, History, Ethics, and Art are taught in Turkish. French Literature, Philosophy, Sociology, Mathematics, and Science courses use French as the language of instruction. In addition, English is taught from the primary school's sixth grade on, while Italian and Latin are taught in the Lycée grades.

The students set up an English Club in 1997, which regularly participates to the Harvard Model United Nations Conferences since that year.

The Lycée de Galatasaray diploma is equivalent to the French Baccalaureate, and graduates of Galatasaray are admitted to universities in France without further examinations. Moreover, they have no difficulty in enrolling in the best universities in Turkey and abroad. After obtaining their University degrees, many of these students join the Civil and Diplomatic Services, which befits the Enderun and later Imperial school traditions.

During 80 years of the Republican Period, there were two Prime Ministers, eight Foreign Affairs Ministers, scores of other cabinet Ministers and Undersecretaries in the state administration among the graduates of the Lycée. Apart from these, many academicians, judges, educators, writers, doctors, architects, engineers, journalists, artists, film directors, poets, painters etc... constitute the illustrious alumni of this exceptional institution.

A special place should be reserved to the Galatasaray alumni who joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They constitute an important body in the Diplomatic Corps, and the number of those who have reached the Ambassadorial rank exceeds one hundred.

Today, Lycée de Galatasaray graduates continue to occupy high ranking political, industrial and business positions within and outside Turkey. They are represented all around the globe by 17 Alumni Associations, 9 in Turkey, and 8 in Europe, North America and South Africa. - 2007