Raymond Charles Péré

Raymond Charles Péré, the architect of Izmir’s landmark clock tower, was born and spent his entire life in the city.

We are standing at Izmir’s time-honored meeting place. There is probably no one who never waited here for a loved one in the days before the advent of the mobile phone. Yes, it’s Izmir’s Clock Tower, the city’s quintessential symbol, of which we speak. And who was the architect of this elegant structure under which we stand with such excitement? No less than Raymond Charles Péré, an Izmir architect undeservedly forgotten in the dusty pages of history, his name known to only a few people.
The story of this creative man, who put his signature not only on the Clock Tower but on several other important buildings in Izmir, takes us back to the middle of the 19th century, 1854 to be exact, when Izmir was a Mediterranean city renowned for its cosmopolitan atmosphere, in which people from every nation and every religion lived together in peace. In a district known then as Punta (modern Alsancak) a boy was born to Jean Péré and his wife Marie Pasyade. Nothing is known about the early years and education of this Levantine boy of French extraction who was named Raymond Charles. But in keeping with the tradition among Levantine families of the time to educate their children in Europe, it is safe to assume that he was trained as an architect in Europe in the last quarter of the 19th century. And the things we do know? That he married Anais Russo, the daughter of one of Izmir’s prominent Levantine families; that they had seven children named Pierre, Marie, Henriette, Charles, François, Louis and Joseph; that he died on 15 October 1929 in Izmir, the city in which he was born and spent his entire life. And that following Péré’s death, his wife and children emigrated to France in 1934. Not to mention, of course, the scores of architectural works that he left behind in every corner of Izmir, each one more precious and beautiful than the last, which have played a major role in creating the city’s unique fabric.


Let us begin with the most famous of all the structures built by Péré in Izmir, the Clock Tower, symbol of the city on Konak Square. It was built in 1901 as part of the celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of Sultan Abdülhamid II’s ascent to the throne. Twenty-five meters tall, it consists of four storeys on an octagonal plan. The North African-style column capitals and the filling in of the horseshoe arches and building facades in such a way as to leave no empty spaces point to an Orientalist style, an architectural concept whose roots can be traced to buildings in North Africa and Andalusian Spain. Unfortunately the octagonal pool that Péré designed at the same time as the Clock Tower with 25 water spigots to symbolize the 25th year of the Sultan’s reign, has not survived; nor have the Izmir Winter Army Barracks of which it was a part.
Another major work by Péré is the Church of St. Helen at Karşıyaka. Constructed on a basilica plan with three naves on an east-west axis, this church was built in 1904 following a decree by Sultan Abdülhamid II granting permission, on land donated by Nicola Aliotti, a prominent Karşıyaka Levantine. Péré used windows with pointed arches on all the facades of this church, which served Karşıyaka’s Roman Catholic congregation. The Church of St. Helen took on strong vertical lines due to its central space, which was kept high to let in more light, and the thick spires used on the entrance facade, features which make it Izmir’s most monumental building in the Gothic Revival style. To the stained glass windows of its interior, Péré added sculptures of St. Polycarpe, St. Francis and St. Anthony as well as gothic-style panels with scenes from the life of Christ. Of the several chapels within the structure, that on the south side bears inscriptions dedicated to the memories of Carol and Valdemar Van der Zee, children of the one of Karşıyaka’s families of Dutch extraction, who met an early death. Another interesting detail is that Edouard Balladur, who was born in Karşıyaka in 1929 and served as Prime Minister of France from 1993 to 1995, was baptized in this church. Meanwhile the building that now serves as the emergency room of the Alsancak State Hospital in Izmir’s Alsancak district was also built by Raymond Charles Péré and annexed to the city’s French Hospital Complex in a repair carried out in 1908. Péré, who designed this building, one of the rare surviving examples of Izmir’s first hospitals, in two storeys on a rectangular plan, made a reference to the neo-gothic approach in the triangular pediments he used on its facades, as well as trying to create a colonialist effect through the very large and exaggerated architectural elements he employed on the exterior. Still another building thought to have been built by Péré is the Ayşe Mayda Mansion in the district of Köprü. Constructed for Sait Pasha’s son, Mehmet Kamil Pasha, who was governor of Izmir from 1895 to 1907, this mansion survives today as one of the most felicitous examples of a uniquely Turkish interpretation of the Art Nouveau style.

But Raymond Charles Péré was not just an architect; he was also a very multi-faceted and creative man. While pursuing his architectural projects, he also made pencil drawings of the buildings belonging to the French Catholic mission in Izmir and its environs, as well as undertaking the restoration of the city’s Church of St. Polycarpe and making the frescoes that adorn its interior. When we examine these frescoes closely, we discover an interesting fact, namely that Péré included himself and his family in them! When depicting Izmir’s most well-known guardian saint being slain by the Romans in the ancient stadium at Kadifekale in a fresco known as ‘The Martyrdom of St. Polycarpe’, dated 1895 and located in the vault that covers the central nave, Péré painted himself helplessly looking on at the proceedings with his hands bound. Similarly, in a scene of ‘Saint Anne and the infant Mary’ on a side wall of the north nave, we see Péré’s daughter Marie as Mary.

In addition to these surviving works by Raymond Charles Péré, he is also known to have drawn a number of house plans for the Levantine families residing in Alsancak and Buca. Although it is extremely difficult to identify those works today, undeniable traces of a successful and popular architect like Raymond Charles Péré nevertheless remain in Izmir’s unique architecture and urban fabric. Whether in the frescoes of a church or the external facade of an historic mansion, or simply while waiting for a friend under his lovely Clock Tower, which makes us forget all about the passage of time.