Other Significant Historical Sites
There are numerous historical churches and cultural monuments throughout Istanbul, which were formerly houses of Christian worship but are now state museums and mosques. Visitors to Istanbul will gain a broader appreciation of Byzantine architecture and Orthodox spirituality by becoming familiar with some of these sites.
Dedicated to the “wisdom” (sophia) of God in the mid-fourth century, it served as an Orthodox church until 1453 and a patriarchal cathedral from 1204-61. For one thousand years, it was the focal point for Orthodox Christians and the world’s largest cathedral, until the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Perhaps the greatest surviving example of Byzantine architecture, the current structure was erected by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century. It was converted into a mosque in 1453, and opened as a museum in 1935.
St. Savior in Chora
The eleventh-century church of the Holy Savior in Chora contains some of the most exquisite Byzantine art in the world. The mosaics and frescoes of this monastic building, which was originally constructed outside of the main walls of the city (hence its name chora, a Greek word implying “the countryside”), are the finest examples of the fourteenth-century Palaeologan Renaissance. It was converted into a mosque in the sixteenth century and became a museum in 1948.
Dedicated to the “peace” (irene) of God, this church—situated in the first courtyard of Topkapi Palace—is one of the first commissioned in Constantinople and served as the patriarchal cathedral before Haghia Sophia was constructed. It was the site of the Second Ecumenical Council in 381. The original structure was destroyed by fire in 532, and the second one by an earthquake in the eighth century. The current edifice dates from the eighth-century restoration. In 1453, the church was converted into an armory, and in 1908 it became a military museum from 1908. The Turkish ministry of culture took charge of the site in 1978, and it now primarily serves as a concert hall for musical performances.
Little Haghia Sophia
Little Haghia Sophia was said to have rivaled the beauty of Haghia Sophia. The church was constructed in the sixth century by Emperor Justinian and dedicated to Saints Sergius and Bacchus, patron saints of the Roman military. In the early sixteenth century, it was converted to a mosque. The building suffered serious decay over the centuries After being repeatedly added to the watch list of UNESCO and the World Monuments Fund, the mosque was restored, and is once again open to the public for worship.
Church of the Monastery of Mary
Constructed (in the shape of a cross) during the sixth century and restored during the twelfth century, this church was dedicated to the Virgin Theotokos and constitutes a splendid example of Byzantine architecture during the twelfth-century Comnenian period. After 1453, the church was used by a dervish order and also served as a Muslim school. Damaged and abandoned over the years, the building was extensively restored and returned to its original state in the 1970s, when it reopened as a mosque.
Church of St. Theodore
Probably dedicated to St. Theodore of Tyre, this church was also constructed during the Comnenian period. Two underground cisterns allude to the existence of a Byzantine monastery. After the Fourth Crusade, it briefly served as a Roman Catholic church. Since 1453, it has served as a mosque. Partially restored in 1937, some of its surviving Christian mosaics were uncovered.
Monastery of Mary Pammakaristos
The eleventh- to twelfth-century church of Panaghia Pammakaristos served as the patriarchal cathedral from 1456-1587, after which it was converted into a mosque and became known as Fethiye Camii, “the mosque of the conquest.” The edifice was restored to its original beauty in the mid-twentieth century, after which the main church served as a mosque, while the chapel opened as a museum.
Monastery of Pantokrator
The second largest surviving Byzantine structure in Istanbul after Haghia Sophia, this early twelfth-century church was part of a monastery complex built by the empress Irene Comnena and dedicated to Christ Pantokrator; the monastery included two churches and a chapel, as well as a library and hospital. After the Fourth Crusade, it briefly served as a Roman Catholic church. After 1453, it was converted into a mosque.