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The magnificent church of the apostles, built by Constantine the great, was on this hill, where the mosque
of sultan Mahomet is situated; there are now no remains of it.
Richard Pococke - A Description of the East and Some Other Countries - 1745
The Byzantine emperor was the head of the Catholic Church i.e. the universal church as identified in the Nicene Creed during the 325 Council of Nicaea.
He appointed the bishops, including those highest in rank, such as the Patriarchs of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch and Constantinople.
For this reason many churches in Constantinople were built at the initiative of the emperors.
The finest mosque next after saint Sophia, which
has been a church, is on the seventh hill, and near the seven towers, it is
called by the Greeks Constantine's church, but is the church of a monastery called Studios, from a citizen of Constantinople of that name
who built it; there is a very handsome portico to it, with four pillars of
white marble, which support a very rich entablature, there being another
of the same kind within: The nave is divided from the isles by seven
verd antique pillars, six feet two inches in circumference; I took particular notice that they are of the composite order: Over these there are as many more pillars of the Ionick order, and probably of the same materials
but according to the Turkish taste they are whited over; there appears to have been a gallery on each side, which is not remaining.
A large apse and two high walls is all that remains of Studion, one of the greatest Byzantine institutions. It was a very large monastery which was founded in 462 by Studius, a Roman patrician. In the course of time it became the University of Constantinople although it was mainly limited to theological matters. The life of the monks had to comply with strict rules, including that which forbade women from entering the premises of Studion. These rules were adopted in many other Orthodox monasteries and are still complied with in the monastic Republic of Mount Athos in Greece.
The Studion was damaged during the 1204 Latin conquest of Constantinople and again in 1453 during the Ottoman one. In 1462 Sultan Fatih Mehmet evicted the remaining monks and he turned the church into a mosque. Two fires, an earthquake, a long abandonment and looting have destroyed the whole monastery and to a great extent the church.
Polyeuktos was a Roman army officer who was beheaded in the IIIrd century because of his Christian faith; the events surrounding his martyrdom provided the basis for a drama by Pierre Corneille and later on for operas by Charles Gounod and Gaetano Donizetti. In 524-527 Princess Anicia Juliana enlarged and embellished an existing church dedicated to St. Polyeuktos. She was the daughter of Anicius Olibrius, one of the last western Roman emperors and a relative of the Theodosian emperors who ruled the Eastern Roman Empire for a long period. The church was most likely already abandoned in 1204 when Constantinople was sacked by the Crusaders; the Venetians took from this church a porphyry relief thought to portray the Tetrarchs. The remains of this church, which was pretty large, were found during the construction of an overpass. A fine relief celebrating Anicia Juliana can be seen at the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul.
Gulhane Park was the outer garden of Topkapi Sarayi before being opened to the public. The remains of Byzantine buildings have been found at its northern end near the Column of the Goths. They are believed to belong to the Orphanage of St. Paul. The institution was founded by Emperor Justin II (565-578) and served not only orphans, but also elderly people, the blind, and war veterans.
Gul Camii seen from Suleymaniye with the Golden Horn in the background
Constantinople still abounds in ancient churches,
though they have to be searched for and are not, all
of them, easy to find. But as one tramps about the
narrow, hilly, rough-paved streets of Stamboul one often
comes by accident on time-worn relics of the Christian
period, unmistakeable in spite of the white and yellow
wash with which they have been daubed over. Otherwise they have been very little altered, though in some
cases the marble columns have been taken away to
decorate a new mosque of the conqueror, and their
place has been supplied with meaner material. (..) The Turks call them Kilise (ecclesiae) and though nearly all traces of the
original decoration in painting and mosaic have been
obliterated, except in the case of the Kahriyeh Djami
or church of the Chora, the fabric has
generally been well cared for.
Thomas Graham Jackson - Byzantine and Romanesque Architecture - 1913.
After the death of Emperor Justinian several events weakened the Byzantine Empire; in Italy the Longobards conquered most of the peninsula, in Asia a very long war with the Persians paved the way for the Arab invasion of Syria, Palestine, Egypt and parts of Anatolia. In 672 the Arabs managed to lay siege to Constantinople (it lasted several years). During the VIIIth century the issue of iconoclasm tore apart the unity of the remaining part of the empire; this may explain why Istanbul does not retain evidence of churches or other monuments built during those difficult years.
The conditions of the empire improved under Emperor Basil I: according to some art historians, but not to all of them, Gul Camii was built during the reign of this emperor (867-886). It was a church dedicated to St. Theodosia, a martyr of the VIIIth century who was killed for having tried to save a sacred image.
The inattention to exterior effect design
which we have noticed in the churches of the 5th, 6th,
and 7th centuries, including S. Sophia itself no longer
prevails, and in the buildings of the later
centuries the outside is as carefully designed as the inside.
Brick still forms the material of the walls, but it is banded with stone, and in the arches
the successive rings are recessed behind one another in
the manner of the Gothic orders. Cornices of dentils
appear, and the blank walls are recessed between the
windows and doors with niches, or gigantic flutings which
are closed at top with conch-shaped stoppings. Jackson
The church was turned into a mosque: its name is generally attributed to the fact that when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, they found the church full of garlands of roses, which had been placed there for the saint's feast. The present building shows several modifications made after it became a mosque, but the brickwork of its three apses is very typical of Byzantine architecture.
Another small church a short distance from St. Theodosia's shows a similar design; its original dedication has not been identified: it was turned into a mosque by Koca Mustafa Pacha, a grand vizier of Sultan Beyazit II; because another mosque is named after him, in this one he is called Atik (ancient) instead of Koca (illustrious, but also old).
Constantine Lips was the officer responsible for the security of the imperial house during the reign of Emperor Leo VI.
In 908 he founded a nunnery with attached a small hospital and a church. A second church was added towards the end of the XIIIth
century south of the existing one. The Ottomans turned this church into a mosque and the nunnery into a dervish lodge.
The complex was burnt down by three fires and was abandoned. It was restored in the 1980s.
Fenari Isa Camii: apses of the South (left) and the North (right) churches
The apses were spared by the fire and show continuity in the overall design; a more elaborate decoration was used for the XIIIth century apse with bricks arranged to form a variety of decorative patterns, very similar to those at St. Saviour Philantropus'.
They are all domed, and on the outside square or nearly so in plan, while on
the inside they gradually assumed the plan of a Greek cross. (..) The dome with its four barrel vaults formed a cruciform plan, and
this was expressed externally by the greater elevation of the four main arms - nave, chancel, and transepts, - which
showed the rounded back of the barrel vault, while the
four small squares in the corners were roofed at a lower
level. (..) As a rule the rounded surfaces of all domes, subsidiary
as well as principal, and of all vaults, were allowed to
show on the exterior, rising into curves and swellings
which were covered with lead. Jackson
The church was built in ca. 922 by Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos as a family chapel. He was a co-emperor: he had persuaded his young son-in-law Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus to appoint him to such position and then also his two sons were appointed co-emperors. Sharing the same roof is often difficult and probably Constantine VII continued to behave in the imperial palace as if he were the only legitimate landlord. Romanos decided to build a separate palace for his family; he covered with a ceiling supported by columns an abandoned ancient rotunda; above it he built a palace, a monastery and the church, the only part of the complex which survived fires, earthquakes and pillaging.
Archaeological Museum of Istanbul - Excavations near Bodrum Camii: (left) IInd/IIIrd century AD bust of a woman which perhaps embellished Romanos' palace; (right) Vth century capital from the rotunda
The church marks a move away from the basilica-like design of the VIth century churches and it is characterized by
the introduction of a cross-in-square plan and by many curved lines. It is regarded as the prototype for most of the Orthodox churches.
Romanos thought he had ensured the future of his family (he had also appointed a third son Patriarch of Constantinople), but when he became very old his two co-emperor sons tried to exclude Constantine VII from the succession; the people of Constantinople revolted and all the Lekapenos ended their days in a monastery.
The dome is enclosed in a lofty drum which from the smallness of the span becomes a tower and is carried up and
closed with a pyramidal roof. The drum is brought into a
polygon and panelled on each side with arcading, divided
by shafts worked in brick, and with brick capitals, carrying arches which break into the pyramidal roof. (..) This drum-tower design prevailed through all subsequent
Byzantine architecture to the last, and is found at Athens
and throughout Greece. Jackson
The church was attached to a nunnery built by Anna Dalassena, mother of Emperor Alexius I Comnenos, to whom she was the closest advisor; her son gave her the title of Augusta which was reserved to the emperors' wives. Constantine Cavafy dedicated a short poem to her (translation by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard):
The church was turned into a mosque by the Ottomans and the nunnery was used as an imaret (soup kitchen) for those who worked at the construction of nearby Fatih Sultan Mehmet Camii, the mosque built by Sultan Mehmet II, the conqueror (fatih) of Constantinople. For this reason it was called the mosque of the old (eski) soup kitchen.
It was restored in 1970 and the dome was covered again with bricks (all the other domes of Istanbul are covered with lead). As usual in Byzantine buildings, the masonry is very elaborate; in particular the use of recessed bricks to add depth to curved lines.
The double narthex is a constant feature in these
churches, and a noble example of it is afforded at the church of S. Saviour Pantocrator. (..) The church itself is made up of three distinct churches joined
together. They are domed and cruciform. (..) The church is said to have been founded in 1124 by
the Empress Irene, wife of John Comnenus, whose successor, the great Manuel, was buried in the central nave
of the three. Jackson
A second nunnery was built by Empress Irene, a few years later in the same neighbourhood. She was the wife of Emperor John II Comnenus, grandson of Anna Dalassena. After her death her husband added a slightly smaller church to the first one and linked the two with a chapel.
Molla Zeyrek Camii: apses
The general effect
of the Pantocrator is fine, and there is much to admire in
this and the other churches of the same period. Jackson
The complex, which in its totality is the second largest Byzantine building after Hagia Sophia, was turned into a mosque, but later on it was abandoned. The apses are the finest part of the building; that of the larger church has seven sides.
At the eastern end of the Aqueduct of Valens the foundations of a bath were used to build a church; in the course of time modifications and additions were made until towards the end of the XIIth century the current building replaced the old ones.
Archaeological Museum of Istanbul (from Kalenderhane Camii): (left) late VIth century mosaic depicting the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple; (right) XIIIth century fresco depicting St. Francis preaching to the birds
After the Latin conquest of Constantinople in 1204 the church and the attached monastery were given to the Franciscans: this was discovered during restorations in the 1980s when a cycle of frescoes portraying the life of the saint was found in a small chapel; they were painted some time after Francis' death (1226) and before the fall of the Latin Empire (1261).
During the Ottoman rule the church and the monastery were used to accommodate the kalender, wandering dervishes, followers of the teachings of Mevlana Jalal-ad-Din.
Plan of this section:
Hagia Irene and Little Hagia Sophia
Roman/Byzantine exhibits at the Archaeological Museum
Great Palace Mosaic Museum
St. Saviour in Chora
Byzantine Heritage (between 1204 and 1453)
First Ottoman Buildings
The Golden Century: I - from Sultan Selim to Sinan's Early Works
The Golden Century: II - The Age of Suleyman
The Golden Century: III - Suleymaniye Kulliye
The Golden Century: IV - Sinan's Last Works
The Heirs of Sinan
Towards the Tulip Era
The End of the Ottoman Empire
Museums near Topkapi Sarayi
The Princes' Islands
Map of Istanbul