Byzantine pilgrimage in the city

Byzantine pilgrimage in the city
Saturday, January 5, 2008

ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News

 Although most of Istanbul's Byzantine buildings have been demolished, many churches were converted into mosques during the Ottoman Empire and preserved as places of worship. Here is a list of Byzantine churches in Istanbul that reflect the city's role as the capital of many great empires throughout its long history, all of which of which have left their mark.  


Little Hagia Sophia

 Built between 527 and 536 A.D. after a central dome plan as a model for Hagia Sophia and dedicated to Saint Sergius and Saint Bacchus, Little Hagia Sophia is located in Istanbul's Kumkapı neighborhood. It is one of the earliest Byzantine buildings in Istanbul and was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman Empire.

 The masonry adopts the usual techniques of the period in Istanbul, which uses bricks sunk in thick beds of mortar. The walls are reinforced by chains of small stone blocks. The building is on a central plan, with an octagon inscribed in an irregular quadrilateral. Eight pillars support its beautiful umbrella dome of light material. The narthex is on the west side, opposite the antechoirs.



Hagia Sophia

 Located in the old city near Sultanahmet Square, Hagia Sophia was originally constructed from 532 to 537 A.D. after the orders of Byzantine Emperor Justinian. Famous in particular for its massive dome, it was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly 1000 years, until the completion of the Medieval Seville Cathedral in 1520.

 Hagia Sophia is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. Its decorated interior with mosaics and marble pillars and coverings is of immense artistic value.

 The vast interior has a complex structure. The large nave is covered by a central dome with a maximum diameter of just over 31 meters and a height of 55.6 meters from the floor, about one fourth smaller than the dome of the Pantheon. The dome appears weightless due to the unbroken arcade of 40 arched windows under it, which allow light to flood into the colorful interior.



Chora Museum

 Considered one of the most beautiful Byzantine churches, the Chora Church is situated in the Edirnekapı district of Istanbul. The interior of the building is covered with fine mosaics and frescoes.

 Most of the current building dates to 1077–1081 A.D., when Maria Dukaina, mother-in-law of Alexius I Comnenus, rebuilt the Chora Church on an inscribed cross, or quincunx plan. Early in the 12th century, the church suffered a partial collapse and was rebuilt by Isaac Comnenus, Alexius's third son. However, it was only after the third phase of building, two centuries later, that the church was completed as it stands today.

 The mosaics in the narthex tell the story of Christ in the Land of the Living and Mary, the mother of Jesus, as the Container of the Uncontainable. The mosaic works are some of the finest examples of the Palaeologian Renaissance, although the artists are unknown.



Hagia Irene

 Hagia Irene is located in the outer courtyard of Topkapı Palace in Istanbul. The building reputedly stands on the site of a pre-Christian temple and was the first church built in Constantinople. Roman Emperor Constantine I commissioned the Hagia Irene church in the 4th century. It burned down in 532 and was restored by Emperor Justinian I in 548.  

 The church suffered heavy damages by an 8th century earthquake but was later repaired to its present form. Emperor Constantine V ordered the restorations and had its interior decorated with mosaics and frescoes. Hagia Irene is the only Byzantine church in the city that retains its original atrium. A great cross in the half-dome above the main narthex, where the image of the Virgin Mary was usually placed according to Byzantine tradition, is a unique vestige of iconoclastic art.



Stoudios Monastery

 Stoudios Monastery was the most important monastery of Constantinople when the city was capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Located near the city walls and Yedikule Fortress, the monastery is the oldest church and monastic complex in Constantinople. The consul Stoudios, a Roman patrician who had settled in Constantinople, founded the church in 462 by and dedicated it to Saint John the Baptist.

 The only part of the complex that survives today is the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, probably the oldest remaining church in Istanbul. Bayezid II's equerry converted the fifth century basilica into İmrahor Camii (Mosque of the Stablemaster). The ancient structure sustained serious damage from the great fires of 1782 and 1920, and the 1894 earthquake also contributed to its ruin.



Fethiye Mosque

 Pammakaristos Church, also known as Fethiye Mosque, is located in the Çarşamba neighborhood in the Fatih district.

 The parekklesion (side chapel), besides being one of the most important examples of Constantinople's Palaiologan architecture, has the most Byzantine mosaics after the Hagia Sophia and Chora Church in Istanbul.

 The church was built between the 11th and 12th centuries, according to most scholars. It was later converted into a mosque by the Ottoman Sultan Murad III and renamed in honor of his Fetih (Conquest) of Georgia and Azerbaijan, hence the name Fethiye Mosque.

 It has a typical cross-in-square plan with five domes, but the proportion between the vertical and horizontal dimensions is much larger than usual. The complex, neglected for so long, was restored in 1949 by the Byzantine Institute of America and Dumbarton Oaks.



Kefeli Mosque

 The Kefeli Mosque (meaning "the mosque of the Caffariotes," named after the inhabitants of Caffa in Crimea) is located in the Fatih district of Istanbul close to the Chora and Fethiye Churches. The church is dedicated to Saint Nicholas and is architecturally remarkable because it reintroduces the early Christian Basilica form during the later Byzantine period.

 The church's history is somewhat blurred. However, the documented history of the building begins in 1475, shortly after the fall of Constantinople, when the Ottomans conquered the Genoese colony of Caffa in Crimea. All Latin, Greek and Jewish inhabitants who lived in Caffa were then deported to Istanbul and relocated to this quarter. The Latins, mostly Genoese, were permitted to use this building as a church.

 The building is a large hall, 22.6 meters long and 7.22 meters wide, and is oriented along the north-south axis, which is quite uncommon among Byzantine churches.



Gül Mosque

 Gül Mosque is located in the Fatih district. Built as a church during Byzantine times and converted to a mosque during Ottoman times, the building is one of the most important Byzantine religious edifices of Constantinople still in existence. Together with Eski Imaret and Vefa Kilise mosques, it is one of Istanbul's most important cross-in-square churches.

 Scholars now dispute its dedication and the date of its construction, which appeared certain for years. It is either identified with the church belonging to the nunnery of Saint Theodosia or with that of the monastery of Christ the Benefactor.

 The difference in masonry between the surviving Byzantine parts, lower parts, and the later, higher Ottoman additions can be seen easily. The building lies on a high vaulted basement, which was used during the Byzantine period only for secular purposes.



Fenari Isa Mosque

 Also located in the Fatih district of Istanbul, Fenari Isa Mosque is a complex built during Byzantine times.

 The Byzantine Admiral Konstantinos Lips built a monastery dedicated to the Virgin Miry in the year 908. The monastery became one of the largest in Constantinople. After the Latin invasion and the restoration of the Empire, between 1286 and 1304, Empress Theodora erected another church dedicated to St. John the Baptist south of the first church. The building was converted into a mosque in 1496, under the reign of Beyazid II.

 The small north church lies on a quincuncial plan and was one of the first shrines in Constantinople to adopt this plan. The south church is a square room surmounted by a dome and surrounded by two deambulatoria, an esonarthex and a parekklesion added later.



Bodrum Mosque

 Bodrum Mosque, a medieval structure rather incongruously choked on three sides by modern blocks, stands in Istanbul's Aksaray district.

 The building's masonry consists entirely of bricks and it was built on a foundation structure made of alternating lines of brick and stone, and it has a cross-in-square (or quincunx) plan with a nine-meter-long side.

 An umbrella dome surmounts the central nave, the drum interrupted by arched windows, which gives the structure an undulating rhythm. Barrel vaults cover the four side naves. The church has a narthex to the west and a sanctuary to the east. The central bay of the narthex is covered by a dome, the two side bays by cross vaults. The nave is divided by four piers, which substituted the original columns during the Ottoman period.

 Many openings – windows, oeil-de-boeufs and arches – provide light to the structure.




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