Churches Walking Tour (Self Guided), Istanbul

Constantinople was a center for religion and the orthodox Christianity for over a millennium and even after the Ottomans came many Christians remained in the city. There are many churches in Istanbul and each of them has its uniqueness.
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Churches Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Churches Walking Tour
Guide Location: Turkey » Istanbul (See other walking tours in Istanbul)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.7 km
Author: kane
The Iron Church - Bulgarian St. Stephen Church

1) The Iron Church - Bulgarian St. Stephen Church

The Bulgarian St. Stephen Church is also known as The Iron Church, since its structure is made of Cast Iron. This is a Bulgarian Orthodox church located in the Fatih district of Istanbul. The church belongs to Bulgarian minority who live in the city of Istanbul. During the 19th century, the Bulgarians were permitted by the Ottomans to construct a separate church for themselves, due to nationalistic movements.

The church is richly ornamented, and is constructed like a cross shaped Basilica. The original church was a wooden structure, constructed near the Golden Horn, and the current church’s alter faces the Golden Horn. The cast iron building was constructed in the site of the wooden church after it was destroyed in a fire.

The Bulgarian St Stephen’s Church was completed in 1898, and was inaugurated by Exarch Joseph. The church is a combination of Neo-Baroque and Neo-Gothic influences in design. St Stephens Church is one of the few surviving cast iron, prefabricated churches left in the world. Its patron saint is Saint Stephen, and on December 27th, a celebratory mass is held at the church. The dome has recently been gold plated by the Bulgarians of Plovdiv.
Church of St. Mary of the Mongols

2) Church of St. Mary of the Mongols

The Church of St Mary of the Mongols is an Eastern Orthodox Church that is located in the Fatih district in the neighborhood of Fener. It stands on the summit of a slope, and overlooks the Golden Horn. The Church of St Mary of the Mongols is the only surviving Byzantine church of Constantinople, which the Ottomans never converted into a Mosque, and it has always been open to the Greek Orthodox Christians. Its conversion into a mosque was saved by a personal decree of Mehmet the Conqueror.

The church is not open to the public, but the structure has tremendous historical significance, being the only original surviving Byzantine church in Istanbul. At the time that it was built, in the 7th century, the church was dedicated to St Eustolia and has been significantly renovated ever since.

The original mosaics and paintings that were made during the 11th -13th centuries have been removed from the inside of the church, but it is still richly decorated. The church complex consists of a tetra-conch plan, comprising a central dome which has been enclosed by a tower. The dome rests on 4 semi-domes. This kind of design is called a unicum, and is typically found in the Byzantine architecture of Constantinople.
Pammakaristos Church

3) Pammakaristos Church

The Pammakaristos Church, located in the district of Fatih, in the neighborhood of Carsamba, is a famous Byzantine church in Istanbul. The church is also known as “The Church of Theotokos Pammakaristos”, which means “All Blessed Mother of God”. In the year 1591, the church was converted into a mosque called Fethiye Cammi, which translates to “the mosque of the conquest” from the Turkish language. The church overlooks the Golden Horn.

Today a part of the church has been converted into a museum, and it contains the largest amounts of original Byzantine Mosaics after the Chora Church and Hagia Sophia in the city of Istanbul. The church is also one of the most important surviving examples of the beautiful Palaiologan architecture of Constantinople. The church was built between the 11th and 12th century, but scholars are still under dispute about the original date of construction.

The church was converted into a mosque by the Ottoman Sultan Murad III, and the main building still remains a mosque today, but the parekklesion has been converted into a museum. Byzantine art can be studied in the church as many remaining panels of the original mosaics are still present in the church museum.

Operation hours: Thursday - Tuesday 9 am - 5 pm.
Chora Church / Kariye Museum

4) Chora Church / Kariye Museum (must see)

Also known as the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, this is one of the most relevant surviving examples of an original Byzantine church.

The Chora Church is located to the south of the Golden Horn, in the district of Fatih, in the neighborhood of Edirnekpi. The original church was built outside the walls of Constantinople, during the fourth century. The church is named so because of its location. The building consists of six domes and is divided into three main parts: the entrance hall, the church itself and the side chapel.

During the 16th century, the Chora Church was converted into a mosque by the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Sultan of that time. By order of the Sultan, many frescos and mosaics in the church’s interior were covered with plaster. In 1948, part of the church was converted into a museum, and much of the artwork, mosaics and frescos went under restoration sponsored by the Byzantine Institute of America. Today, the Chora Church (or Kariye Museum) is a popular spot for tourists who wish to study Byzantine architecture in detail.

Why You Should Visit:
While certainly smaller than Hagia Sophia, Chora is nonetheless no less majestic or magical thanks to its more complete mosaic collection.

Spend a little extra on the audio guide as it makes the tour much more exciting and informative.
In the square, you'll find a shop with good quality ceramics at a better price than in other areas of Istanbul.

Opening Hours:
Thu-Tue: 9am-7pm, last admission: 6pm (Apr-Oct); 9am-5pm, last admission: 4:30pm (Nov-Mar)
Closed on Wednesdays
Church of St. Mary of Blachernae

5) Church of St. Mary of Blachernae

The church of St. Mary of Blachernae is an Eastern Orthodox Church, located in the Fatih district in the neighborhood of Ayvansaray. It is just a short walk from the Golden Horn, and the complex consisting of the church itself and a garden, is protected by a high wall. The church was built in 1867 and dedicated to St. Mary of Blachernae, whose shrine was erected here in the fifth century by Empress Aelia Pulcheria and her husband Emperor Marcian. The shrine was destroyed in 1434, and until its destruction, it was a very important Greek Orthodoxy sanctuary.

The church complex contains two other buildings aside from the Church itself, which are the Sacred Bath and the Chapel of the Reliquary. These were erected by Emperor Leo I, and the Holy Reliquary hosts the holy mantle and the robe of the Virgin, that have been recovered from Palestine in the year 473. The Sacred Bath encloses a fountain.

The Church is constructed in the fashion of a Basilica, with three aisles and two colonnades. A dome was also built on the Church structure by Justinian. The original mosaics have been replaced by images of flora and fauna, but the church is still visited today by tourists due to its historic significance.
Mayor Synagogue

6) Mayor Synagogue

Mayor Synagogue is located in the Hasköy district of Beyoğlu in Istanbul. The synagogue was constructed during the Byzantine period, and was called “Mayor” since it was the largest in the area. The date of construction of the synagogue is disputed by scholars, with some scholars stating that it was constructed 300-400 years ago, which is a recent date compared to the Byzantine era. During the time that it was fully operational, it was an important worship site for the Jewish community in Istanbul.

The synagogue is located in the Golden Horn region of Istanbul. Today, it is used as a storage area, contains a billiard parlor and is also used as a work shop and hosts cultural events. It was also used to store the artifacts from the Neve Salom synagogue when it was attacked by terrorists. Today it still acts as a storage area.

The Turkish government is trying to preserve the synagogue as a strong heritage site for the Jewish community in Istanbul. The Romanian-born American artist Serge Spitzer has also created “Molecular Istanbul” at the Mayor Synagogue. The work was completed in three months and is a masterpiece connecting the past with the present.
Maalem Synagogue

7) Maalem Synagogue

Maalem Synagogue is the only regularly open synagogue in the district of Maalem. In this old, dilapidated building, Sabbath services are held on a regularly basis.

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