There are a number of places in Istanbul where to explore its Armenian history. These include the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople, historical Armenian neighbourhoods such as Samatya, buildings designed by the members of the famous Balyan family, and many-many others.
The portfolio contains the most important and visible Armenian churches and schools in the city. First, Armenian Apostolic churches are listed by neighbourhood, followed by Armenian Catholic churches and an Armenian Evangelical Church. The years of construction given after the addresses are of the current structures. I took the photos in September 2014, from November 2015 to January 2016, and in November 2018.
You will find the locations of the mentioned buildings on the map below:
Part One: Armenian Apostolic Church
1. Surp Kevork Church
Marmara Caddesi 47, Samatya
Bedros Nemtze, 1887
The Church of Saint George is located above a sacred spring, which is why it is known under the name of the Water Monastery in Turkish.
There was a church on this site in the 5th century already. In 1031, the Monastery of Theotokos Peribleptos was established here. It came to be the one of the most important Greek Orthodox monasteries in Constantinople. After the Conquest, Sultan Mehmed II gave the church to the Armenians from Bursa, who made it the seat of the Armenian Patriarchate. In the subsequent decades there were many arguments between the Greek and Armenian communities over the possession of the building, which is why it was often called the Bloody Church. In around 1641, the Patriarchate moved to Kumkapı, but the church remained in the hands of the Armenians.
The church burnt down repeatedly in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The current building was completed in 1887.
2. Sahakyan Nunyan School
Marmara Caddesi 47, Samatya
Last third of the 19th century
The history of the Sahakyan School goes back to the establishment of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1461, when on the grounds of the monastery where the Patriarchate operated a high school for boys was built. To this the Nunyan School for girls was added in 1831. Fire ravaged the complex in 1866, after which the structures were rebuilt. During World War I the complex functioned as military barracks, and in the building of the Nunyan School was, until 1923, a shelter for the Armenians that had managed to escape from the genocide in Anatolia.
3. Surp Asdvadzadzin Patriarchal Church
Sevgi Sokak 3, Kumkapı
Krikor and Garabet Balyan, 1828; the bell tower – 1870
This church, the largest in Istanbul, stands on the site of an earlier Byzantine church over a sacred spring dedicated to Saint Theodore. It houses the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople. The patriarchate moved here from the Surp Kevork Church in 1641. The church burned down in 1645, 1718, 1762 and 1826. Since the late-17th until the 19th century, important printing houses operated in the courtyard of the church.
The current complex is from 1828 and includes a school and three churches. The plans of the Surp Asdvadzadzin (Holy Mother of God) Church were drawn by Krikor and Garabet Balyan from the family of Ottoman court architects. The bell tower was added in 1870.
Despite a huge decrease of its congregation during the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1917 and later, the Patriarchate remains the spiritual head of the largest Christian community living in Turkey today. The church is now also used by Istanbul’s Syrian and Ethiopian population.
4. Building of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople
Sevgi Sokak 6, Kumkapı
The building of the Patriarchate is located across the street from the Surp Asdvadzadzin Church.
5. Bezciyan School
Sevgi Sokak 1, Kumkapı
The Bezciyan School belongs to the ensemble of buildings of the Armenian Patriarchate.
The first Armenian school in Kumkapı opened in 1790. In 1826, it burned down together with the Patriarchate. The school was rebuilt in 1828-1830 and opened in 1834. It is named after Artin Bezciyan, a friend of Sultan Mahmud II and a known philanthropist who convinced the Armenians who had converted to Catholicism to come back to the Apostolic Church. Today the building functions as a kindergarten, primary and secondary school.
6. Surp Hıreşdagabed Church
Kamış Sokak 2, Balat
After the Conquest of Constantinople, the churches of the Greeks were either turned into mosques or were given to Armenians. This church is one of the latter. It had belonged to Greek Cypriots when it was transferred to the Armenians (in 1628, 1631, or 1636). A fire devastated it in 1692 and 1729. In 1730, the church opened as a wooden structure but later it was again destroyed in fires. The current building, dedicated to the Archangels, opened for service in 1835. There is a sacred spring under it. On the feast day of the saints, both Christians and Muslims gather here in anticipation of a miracle.
7. Surp Nigoğayos Church
Topkapı Meydanı & Sulukule Caddesi, Topkapı
Vartan Kalfa Tingiryan, 1831-1832
This church is located behind the Theodosian Walls near a Greek Orthodox church. Both churches are dedicated to Saint Nicholas. The Armenian church was established in 1626. It must have suffered several times, as there is information that the church was renovated or rebuilt in 1813, 1823 and 1831-1832. In the last case, the Armenians organised a fundraiser, didn’t get enough donations and were only able to rebuild the church using the money collected from mosques and Muslim shop owners, at the initiative of the imam of the nearby-standing Gazi Ahmed Pasha Mosque.
8. Surp Yerrortutyun Church
Sahne Sokak 6, Galatasaray
Garabet Balyan, 1838
The beautiful Church of the Holy Trinity, hidden in the back streets of the Fish Market, stands on a site where there had been a church since 1503. A school was built here in 1805 but two years later it was converted into a church. The building was destroyed in a fire in 1810. The current building dates from 1838. It was designed by Garabet Balyan, who later also designed many notable buildings, such as Dolmabahçe and Beylerbeyi Palaces.
9. Esayan School
Meşelik Sokak 24, Taksim
The school, located opposite the Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church in Taksim, was established in 1895 by brothers Hovhannes and Mıgırdiç Esayan, as the Naregyan School, located near the Surp Yerrortutyun Church, could no longer sufficiently satisfy the growing educational needs of the Armenian community of Pera. In 1908, it became a high school for girls. In 1913, mixed education began. The building operates as a school today as well.
10. Surp Krikor Lusavoriç Church
Kemeraltı Caddesi 40, Karaköy
This church is the most visible of the many churches of Karaköy.
A church is supposed to have stood here since 1360 or 1361 or at least since 1431, making it the oldest known Armenian church in Istanbul. The original building was damaged by a series of fires in the 18th century. It was rebuilt in 1799. That building was demolished in 1958, when Kemeraltı Caddesi, the road on which it is located, was widened.
The current building is from 1962. Its design is based on that of the Etchmiadzin Cathedral. It has a raised dome and blind arcading typical of Armenian ecclesiastical architecture. The church was consecrated in 1966. It is named after Gregory the Illuminator, who converted Armenia to Christianity in 301.
11. Surp Asdvadzadzin Church
İlhan Sokak 28, Beşiktaş
Garabet Balyan, 1838
A small church or a chapel is thought to have stood on this site in the second half of 17th century. It was destroyed in the mid-18th century. The current building is from 1838 and was designed by Garabet Balyan. It is one of the few domed churches in Istanbul: it has an internal dome that is invisible from the outside. (Religious minorities in the Ottoman Empire were forbidden to adorn their buildings with domes.)
Today, the building is renovated and looks good. It is also the dearest Armenian church to me in Istanbul. I heard its delicate-sounding bell invite the faithful and saw people dressed in black welcome them at the gate on rare Sunday mornings and on December, 31 (the only times when I saw the church was open) when I lived opposite it in winter 2015-2016.
12. Surp Asdvadzadzin Church
Salihağa Sokak 13, Yeniköy
There was a church here already in 1760. The current building is from 1834.
13. Surp Garabet Church
Vasiyet Sokak 6, Üsküdar
This church, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, is from 1888 in its current form. The original building was constructed in 1593.
14. Surp Takavor Church
At the crossing of the Mühürdar Caddesi, Muvakkıthane Caddesi and Mukkaderhane Caddesi, Kadıköy
This church is known to have existed in 1722 under the name of Surp Asdvadzadzin. It was reconstructed and opened again in 1814. That building later burned down. The current church opened under the name of Surp Takavor (Christ the King) in 1858.
15. Surp Krikor Lusavoriç Church
Akgünlük Sokak 10, Kınalıada
1854-1857; the bell tower – 1988
In modern times, the residents of Kınalıada have been mostly Armenians, which gives the island the highest density of Armenians living in Istanbul, especially in summertime. This church is the only Armenian Apostolic church on the Princes’ Islands. The summer residence of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople stands nearby.
16. Balıklı Armenian Cemetery
Balıklı Seyit Nizam Yolu, Balıklı
This beautiful cemetery, located across the street from the Byzantine Monastery of Zoödochos Pege, is one of the oldest Armenian cemeteries in Istanbul. Its history goes back to 1554, when the lot of land was given to the Armenian community of the city. The oldest tombstones are from 1618. Several Armenian Patriarchs are buried here, together with a number of famous Armenian writers, artists and intellectuals (e.g. Hrant Dink). The chapel near the entrance is from 1985.
Part Two: Armenian Catholic Church
17. Surp Hisus Pırgiç Church
At the crossing of Kemeraltı Caddesi and Alageyik Sokak, Karaköy
This church, located next to Saint Benoît High School and dedicated to Jesus Christ the Saviour, opened in 1834. It was the first Armenian Catholic church built in Istanbul. It served as the seat of the Armenian Catholic Patriarchate of Cilicia since 1866 until 1928, when the mission was moved to Beirut.
Armenian Catholics broke away from the Armenian Apostolic Church in the 18th century. They established communion with the Catholic Church in Rome and, in the Ottoman Empire, even took to speaking French.
18. Surp Hovhan Vosgeperan Church
Ana Çeşmesi Sokak 2, Taksim
Garabed & Andon Tülbentçiyan, 1860-1863
This church, located just behind the French Consulate, is the biggest Armenian Catholic church in Turkey, accommodating around 600 people. Even though it is a huge church located just a stone’s throw away from Taksim Square, it does not dominate the space, unlike the Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church on the other side of İstiklal Avenue. The current structure, replacing the wooden church of 1838, is Neoclassical and has an impressive octagonal dome. It is dedicated to Saint John Chrysostom. A school, a poorhouse and a hospital belonged to the complex in the past. Pope John Paul II visited the church in 1979.
19. Surp Yerrortutyun Church
Perukar Çıkmazı, Beyoğlu
The Armenian Catholic Church of the Holy Trinity should not be confused with the Armenian Apostolic church of the same name in Galatasaray. It stands on the site of a late-Roman necropolis. The original church was built by four Austrian priests in the 18th century. It got damaged in fires in 1762 and 1831 and was rebuilt in 1836. It functioned as a Latin Catholic cathedral in 1802-1854. In 1857 it was sold to the Armenian Catholics. Interesting objects that the church contains include the 18th-century Ottoman walls and the early-19th-century wooden doors.
20. Surp Anarad Hığutyun Church
Org. Abdurrahman Nafiz Gürman Caddesi 156, Samatya
Andon Tülbentçiyan, 1857
The Armenian Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception was built in 1857. Mesrobyan School, established in 1845, is located in the courtyard.
21. Surp Asdvadzadzin Verapokhum Church
Mehmetçik Sokak 11, Büyükada
Andon Tülbentçiyan, 1856-1858
This beautiful Italianate church, dedicated to the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God, is the only Armenian Catholic church on the Princes’ Islands. Its architect is thought to be Andon Tülbentçiyan, who designed the very similar Surp Anarad Hığutyun Church in Samatya around the same time.
22. Surp Hovhannes Mıgırdiç Church
At the beginning of Köybaşı Arkası Sokak, Yeniköy
This Neo-Gothic Armenian Catholic church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist opened for prayer in 1866.
Part Three: Armenian Evangelical Church
23. Amenasurp Yerrortutyun Church
Gümüş Küpe Sokak, Aynalıçeşme
The Armenian Evangelical Church was established in 1846, when a group of believers was excommunicated from the Armenian Apostolic Church, because of their perception of a conflict between the doctrines of the Church and the Bible.
The Church of the All-Holy Trinity is the oldest Armenian Evangelical church in Istanbul, dating back to the establishment of the church in 1846. The original building must have burned down, replaced by another church and a school in 1870. The current structure is from 1905-1907. It is located next to the German Evangelical Church.