Late Roman & Byzantine Sites of Istanbul

Part Seven: Middle Byzantine Churches and Monasteries


43. Monastery of Lips

Fenâri Îsâ Mosque
Adnan Menderes Bulvarı, Ahmediye Caddesi, Şair Fuzuli Sokak & Halıcılar Caddesi, Fatih

Admiral Constantine Lips built a nunnery, dedicated to the Theotokos Panachrantos (the Immaculate Mother of God), in 907-908. Emperor Leo VI the Wise participated in its inauguration, and soon the monastery became one of the largest in Constantinople.


This monastery consists of two churches.


Church of Theotokos Panachrantos (north church)


The katholikon of the monastery was possibly built on the remains of a church from the 6th century. Tombstones from a Roman cemetery were used in its construction.

The church was the second in Constantinople to adopt the cross-in-square plan (the first being the Nea Ekklesia of the Great Palace from 880), and it is the oldest church with that plan surviving in the city. It has a naos divided into nine bays. The central bay is covered by a dome, which was supported by four columns. The current dome with eight windows is from the Ottoman period, as are the two pointed arches spanning the whole church, replacing the columns. The bases of the three columns have remained in their original positions. The vaulted arms of the cross-in-square core terminate in huge triple windows on the north and south façades. The naos culminates in the east by a tripartite bema and in the west by a three-bay narthex. The apses of the church are high and interrupted by windows: by a triple window on the central apse and by single windows on the side apses.

This church had, additionally, six chapels. On the ground level, there were two chapels in front of the prothesis and the diaconicon. Unusually, there were also small roof chapels at the four edges of the building: two over the western corner bays of the naos, one over the prothesis, and one over the diaconicon. From one of these chapels, a 10th-century marble icon of Martyr Eudokia of Heliopolis, was found in the 20th century.

The masonry consists of alternating courses of bricks and small stone blocks. The bricks sink in a thick bed of mortar, as typical in the 10th-century Byzantine architecture. On the inside, the church was decorated with marble panels and coloured tiles, and the vaults were covered by mosaics. Outstanding are the window mullions, cornices, and corbels of the church, ornamented by various motifs (such as foliage, palmettes, rosettes, fantastic plants, crosses, peacocks and eagles). These form what is one of the most outstanding collections of Middle Byzantine sculptural decoration in the city.

Archivolt with the busts of the Apostles, from the Church of Theotokos Panachrantos of the Monastery of Constantine Lips (late 13th or early 14th century; Istanbul Archaeology Museum)



Church of Hagios Ioannis Prodromos (south church)


The Monastery of Lips was restored by Theodora, the widow of Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos, between 1281 and 1304. She had another church erected south of the existing church. Dedicated to Saint John the Forerunner, that church served as a mausoleum for the members of the Palaiologan dynasty, starting with Theodora herself.

The south church is a notable example of Palaiologan architecture. Its centerpiece is a simple square bay crowned by a dome. The central bay is surrounded on three sides by an ambulatory and further on the west by a narthex (originally domed). These spaces were filled with tombs. The ambulatory is lower than the domed core and the bema, providing access of light through triple windows on three sides of the central bay.

The walls and vaults of the church were covered with mosaics. The floor of the naos was paved in the opus sectile technique. The bema has a marble floor, which has been preserved.

On the three apses of the south church, niches and windows of various sizes can be seen. More attention gets the attractive brickwork of the apses. The bricks are arranged to form various interesting patterns, like arches, hooks, meanders, sun crosses, and fans. Between these patterns there are white bands of stone separated by two to five courses of bricks. Such decorations, showing the influence of the East, became common in the Late Byzantine architecture.






Early 14th century

In the early 14th century, in order to create space for additional burial sites, a long exonarthex was added to the two churches, together a with parecclesion of the south church. These were interconnected, forming a space that surrounds the complex on the west and south sides. The tombs were placed in the arcosolia, built along the outer walls of the structure. The façades of the exonarthex and the parecclesion closely follow the style of the two churches.



44-45. Rotunda and Church of Myrelaion

Aksaray Caddesi, Mesihpaşa Caddesi, Laleli Caddesi & Şair Haşmet Sokak, Laleli

We can distinguish two surviving structures in the Myrelaion complex: a rotunda (cistern) and a church (mosque).


44. Rotunda of Myrelaion

5th century; converted into a cistern in early 10th century

In around 920, Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos bought a property in the Myrelaion neighbourhood of Constantinople. (Myrelaion means ‘place of myrrh’ in Greek.) His intention was to build here a new imperial residence, as a replacement of the Great Palace.

On the site that he acquired stood a giant rotunda from the 5th century. With its diameter of 41.8 m, it was the largest circular building in the city and the second largest in the ancient world (after the Pantheon of Rome, which measures 43.3 m). The identity and the original function of the rotunda is unclear. It has been suggested that it was the palace of the Theodosian princess Arcadia. Its sigma-shaped portico (destroyed) may be identified as the Amastrianon, which served as a market and a place for public executions in the Medieval period.

The rotunda was converted, possibly by Romanos himself, into a cistern. Its dome was destroyed, and its surface was levelled. The interior was filled with columns to support a vaulted system. This structure can be visited in the bazaar that it houses. The capitals of the columns are very beautiful, especially when considering their current surroundings.




On the surface of the cistern Romanos built the Palace of Myrelaion. It resembled a Roman corridor villa and was much smaller than the rotunda. Later he turned the palace into a nunnery and the substructure into a burial chapel. Almost nothing remains of the palace today.

In the 1960s, archaeologists discovered a fragment of a porphyry sculpture from the rotunda. It turned out to be the missing heel of the Portrait of the Tetrarchs, which had been stolen from Constantinople and brought to Venice during the Fourth Crusade (now displayed at a corner of the façade of St Mark’s Basilica). This statue probably originates from the Philadelphion, a square close-by, where the Mese branched in two, considered the physical centre, or the mesomphalos, of the city.


45. Church of Myrelaion

Bodrum Mosque

A church was attached to the Palace of Myrelaion. In 922, Theodora, the wife of Romanos, died and was buried here, followed in 931 by his eldest son and co-emperor Christopher. By burying his family in the Church of Myrelaion, Romanos broke a tradition that had started from Constantine the Great, whereby all the Byzantine emperors were supposed to be laid to rest in the Church of the Holy Apostles. In 948, Romanos himself was buried here. His example was followed by later Komnenian and Palaiologan emperors, who, too, preferred private burial churches.

The Church of Myrelaion is one of the first churches in the city with the cross-in-square plan, after the Nea Ekklesia of the Great Palace and the northern church of the Monastery of Lips.

The church has a naos surmounted by a dome with a fluted surface, forming the so-called umbrella dome, or the pumpkin dome. The cross arms of the naos are topped by groin vaults. The naos was originally partitioned by four columns (replaced by piers in the Ottoman period). To the east is a sanctuary with three polygonal apses (the bema, the prothesis, and the diaconicon). To the west is a narthex with a dome on its central bay. Originally, the church also had an exonarthex, but that was replaced by a wooden portico in the Ottoman era. The mosaics and marble that decorated the interior have totally disappeared.

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On the outside, unusual elements include semi-cylindrical buttresses, which create a flowing effect on the façades, and small rounded windows. Rare is also the fact that the masonry is entirely made of bricks.


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In around 1500 the church was converted into a mosque and named after its substructure (‘bodrum’ means basement in Turkish).


46-47. Monastery of Theotokos in Petra

In the 9th and 10th century there was a monastery near the Cistern of Aetius on the Sixth Hill of Constantinople. It has been, for long time, identified as the Monastery of Theotokos in Petra, but there is no conclusive evidence to prove that. The structures today known as the Odalar Mosque, Kasım Ağa Mosque and İpek Bodrum Cistern were probably all part of that monastery, with the first being its katholikon, the second an annex, and the third its water source.


46. Katholikon of the Monastery of Theotokos in Petra

Odalar Mosque
Müftu Sokaĝi 20-22, Karagümrük
First church – 9th or 10th century; second church – mid- or late-12th century

The first katholikon of the Monastery of Theotokos in Petra was erected in the 9th or 10th century. It had a square plan with three apses. Under it was a basement composed of 24 vaulted rooms and a vaulted crypt with an apse. These spaces may have had a profane use before. These were later turned into a cistern.

The second church was built in the middle or at the end of the 12th century. It used 16 rooms of the basement of the old church as a substructure, and its floor was 3.3 m above that of the first church. The plan was cross-in-square, with the typical dome, four columns, tripartite naos and narthex. Atypical was the diaconicon, which was larger than the prothesis. The walls were build up of stone and bricks, the recessed-brick technique being used with the latter.

Several frescoes survive from the two churches, depicting the Theotokos Enthroned, the Deesis, the Prophets, the Life of Mary, and Saint Mercurius. Some are now in Istanbul Archaeology Museum.



In 1475, when the Ottomans conquered the Genovese city of Caffa (today Feodosia) in Crimea, this neighbourhood was populated with Christian settlers. The church was given to the Dominicans, who had brought a large icon of the Hodegetria type with them and who dedicated the church to Saint Mary of Constantinople. By the beginning of the 16th century, the area had become predominantly Italian. Sultan Murad IV decided to move all the foreigners that were not Ottoman subjects to Galata and Pera, as a result of which, in 1636, the church was closed and, in 1640, turned into a mosque. The icon found its way to the Church of SS Peter and Paul in Galata. The mosque got its current name after 1782, when married Janissaries moved to the neighbourhood (with ‘oda’ meaning ‘room’ in Turkish). The building was destroyed in a fire in 1919 and has fallen in ruin since then.


47. Annex of the Monastery of Theotokos in Petra

Kasım Ağa Mosque
Koza Sokak, Karagümrük
13th-15th century

This small building was probably an annex of the Monastery of Theotokos in Petra. It was roughly square in plan, with a single nave preceded by an atrium in the north east and a projecting room in the east. It has no apse. Its masonry suggests that it was a Palaiologan structure, but also that there were different construction phases. It seems to have fallen in ruins by 1453, and a mosque was built in its place in 1460 or 1506.



48. Church of Hagia Thekla of the Palace of Blachernae

Atik Mustafa Paşa Mosque / Hazreti Cabir Mosque
Çember Sokak, Ayvansaray
Mid-9th century; 1059

For a long time it was thought that this church was dedicated to Saints Peter and Mark. It is more probable, however, that it is, instead, the Church of Hagia Thekla of the Palace of Blachernae.

In the middle of the 9th century, Princess Thekla, a daughter of Emperor Theophilus (829-842), is known to have enlarged an oratory located some hundred meters east of the Church of the Saint Mary of Blachernae and dedicated it to her patron saint. Because the church displays many archaic elements it is sometimes suggested that it dates from that time. Examples of the archaic elements include the L-shaped piers, which form the internal side of the cross to support the dome, and simple, barrel-vaulted corner bays. If the church can be dated to this period, it would be the earliest surviving post-Iconoclast church and the first cross-in-square type of a church in the city.

It is known that in 1059, Isaac I Komnenos built a larger church around here, to commemorate his surviving a hunting accident. That church was famous for its frescoes and mosaics. Anna Komnene writes that her grandmother Anna Dalassene used to come here often to pray. It may be that the church as we see it today dates from this (or an even later) period.


The church is oriented to north-east and south-west. On the south-east side it has three polygonal apses. Originally the church looked much lighter than today, as the floor was 1.50 metres lower and the dome was taller and filled with windows. The dome was heavily damaged in the 1509 earthquake, after which the church was turned into a mosque. The current dome is from the Ottoman period, as are the roof, the cornice, and the porch. The windows were later thoroughly reworked. The interior was plastered over as well, including the early-15th-century frescoes depicting the Archangel Michael and Saints Cosmas and Damian.

The mosque is important for Muslims, because of the türbe attributed to a companion of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari (Eyüp), who fell during the First Arab Siege of Constantinople (674-678).


49. Church of Saint Mary of the Mongols

Tevkii Cafer Mektebi Sokak 1, Fener
Original church – 11th century; narthex – 1281-1285; current modification – 18th century

This church stands near the Phanar Greek Orthodox College. Its earliest stage is the 11th century, when it was part of a male monastery dedicated to Theotokos Panagiotissa. It was a tetraconch church with a central dome. Each of the four sides of the central square were flanked with semicircular apses, each having three apsidioles. This type of a ground plan is uncommon in the area around Constantinople, but it is still not the only example: the Church of Panagia Kamariotissa on Heybeliada is also a tetraconch church.

The monastery was abandoned after the Fourth Crusade. In 1261 it was re-established by Isaac Doukas, uncle of Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos. The complex was renovated in 1266-1267. In 1281, it was renovated again by Maria Palaiologina, illegitimate daughter of Michael VIII, who established it as a nunnery. She added a three-bay narthex to the church and 33 cells, a bath, gardens, and vineyards for the nuns. Maria had been a consort of Abaqa Khan, the second ruler or the Mongol Il-khanate, from which the Greek name of the church, Panagia Mouchliotissa, derives.


This church is known in Turkish as Kanlı Kilise (the Bloody Church). The name comes from the fact that the last resistance of the Byzantines against the Ottomans took place on May 29, 1453 in its surroundings.

Tradition has it that Sultan Mehmed II gave the church to the mother of Atik Sinan, or Christodoulos, the Greek architect of the Fatih Mosque, in acknowledgment of his work. The grant was later confirmed by Sultan Bayezid II. Copies of the firmans ensuring its survival are still preserved inside the church. Even though there were some later attempts to convert the church into a mosque, the earlier grants prevented it from falling from the hands of the Greeks. That makes it the only church in Istanbul that has been continuously used by the Greek Orthodox Church.

The church was modified heavily in the 18th century. It lost its southern semi-dome and the southern bay of the narthex, over which three aisles were built. The only surviving Byzantine features are the eastern and northern apses and the two northern bays of the narthex.

The original interior of the church is gone as well. A mosaic icon of the Panagia Mouchliotissa is housed in the church, dating from the end of the 13th or the beginning of the 14th century. The traces of the mural painting visible today, depicting the Last Judgment, originate from the post-Byzantine period.


50. Monastery of Christ Pantepoptes

Eski Imaret Mosque
Küçük Mektepli Sokak 11, Zeyrek

This church was the katholikon of a monastery established by Anna Dalassene in around 1085. Dedicated to Christ the All-Seeing, it is unique in the Byzantine history in that, as far as it is known, no other monastery in the empire of all those dedicated to Christ ever bore this epithet. For Anna Dalassene, the monastery was a major symbol of his family’s struggle for supremacy, which had culminated in the accession to power of his son Alexios I Komnenos in 1081. As an extremely powerful woman and the mother of the Komnenoi, she was also called Pantepoptes by her descendants. She later retired in this monastery, where she died and was buried.

The church has a cross-in-square plan, with four vaulted crossarms. It has two narthexes: the esonarthex is original, while the exonarthex may be a Palaiologan addition, replacing an open portico. Over the narthex and the two western bays of the quincunx runs a gallery, probably built for the private use of Anna Dalassene. It was endowed with two rooms and possibly connected with outside structures. Chapels may have stood above the prothesis and diaconicon. Of the original interior nothing remains, except for some red marble around the doorways and some columns.

In the exterior, elements typical of Byzantine architecture under the Macedonian dynasty (867-1056) co-exist with innovations which where to become commonplace in the Komnenian era (1081-1185). The scalloped roofline of the 12-sided dome, for example, is typical of the Macedonian architecture, while the small recessed niches in the walls represent the Komnenian period.


This church is the oldest extant building in Istanbul where the use of the recessed-brick technique can be seen. This technique, a trademark of the middle-period Byzantine architecture, means the placement of a band of bricks in a way that it is slightly recessed, while placing another band, as usual, on the outer line of the wall. The recessed bricks are covered with mortar, which creates the alternation of red (brick) and light-coloured (mortar) bands on the walls. In the upper parts, stone is used.

The church is also notable for the use of cloisonné masonry, i.e dressed stones laid in regular courses and framed by bricks horizontally and vertically. This technique was typical in Greek architecture of the period (cf. the Byzantine churches of Athens), but virtually unknown in Constantinople. Decorative motifs such as sunbursts, meanders and basket-weave patterns can be found on the façades. Dog-tooth frets decorate the cornices. Unique is also the brick-tiled roofing, as in Constantinople churches were normally roofed with lead.

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After the conquest of 1453, the complex was known for the soup kitchen (imaret) it housed. The mosque that the church has been converted to is still called Eski İmaret Camii, or the Mosque of the Old Soup Kitchen.


51. Chapel of the Monastery of Menodora, Metrodora and Nymphodora / Chapel of the Monastery of Kyra Martha

Manastır Mescidi (Monastery Mosque)
Turgut Özal Millet Caddesi & Karanfilli Çavuş Sokak, Topkapı
Late 11th century or the Palaiologan era

It has been speculated that this cute building, located near the Gate of Saint Romanos, was part of the Monastery of Menodora, Metrodora and Nymphodora. Others have suggested that it was an annex of the Monastery of Kyra Martha. Its size indicates that it was a chapel within a monastery rather than its katholikon.

The original plan of the building is not known. The current structure has a single nave, a tripartite bema in the east and a vaulted narthex in the west. Two carved capitals separate the naos from the narthex. Foundations of columns have been found in the naos, which may suggest that it was originally a cross-in-square building. It may have also had an exonarthex, a chapel in the south (with its own narthexes on three sides), and an open portico.




52. Church of Hagia Theodosia / Church of Hagia Euphemia in Petrio / Church of Christos Euergetes

Gül Mosque
Vakıf Mektebi Sokak 16, Ayakapı
Late 11th or early 12th century

This church has traditionally been identified as the church of the Monastery of Hagia Theodosia. Theodosia was one of the nuns who gathered on January 19, 729 to prevent the removal of the icon of Christ which stood over the Chalke Gate at the Great Palace of Constantinople. She let the man executing the order given by Emperor Leo III the Isaurian to fall from the ladder, causing his death. She was captured and executed. After the end of Iconoclasm, Theodosia was recognised as a martyr, and she soon became one of the most venerated saints in Constantinople.

It has also been argued that the building was the Church of Hagia Euphemia in Petrio. Some suggest that the church was part of the Monastery of Christos Euergetes (Christ the Benefactor).

The church lies on a high vaulted basement, which gives it an impressive look. Its masonry shows the use of the technique of the recessed brick, which makes it probable that it dates from the late 11th or early 12th century. Another element that contributes to the credibility of this dating are its side apses, which consist of five niches divided into four tiers and decorated with ornamental brickwork and a cornice. This makes the church stylistically very similar to the Monastery of Christ Pantocrator, which was built between 1118 and 1136. The plainer central apse is probably a later Byzantine reconstruction.


The church has a cross-domed plan (cf. the Church of Theotokos Kyriotissa). It is surmounted by five domes, one big in the centre and four smaller ones at the corners. The central dome, which has a low external drum and no windows, and the broad pointed arches that carry it are from the Ottoman period.

Because of the larger scale of the church, the dome was supported by piers, and not columns. The eastern piers are interesting because they contain both a small chamber. One of them may have contained the tomb of Saint Theodosia, but later also the tomb of the Ottoman saint Gül Baba according to some. (The more famous türbe of Gül Baba is located in the Rózsadomb neighbourhood in Budapest.) The inscription in Ottoman Turkish above the entrance (‘Tomb of the Apostle, disciple of Jesus, peace with him’), bears witness to the religious syncretism of the 16th-century Constantinople.

Another interesting elements is the upper gallery. It occupies three walls of the naos, running from the chapel located atop the prothesis to the one that lies above the diaconicon. It is possible that the gallery is a Palaiologan addition.

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The church was turned into a mosque in around 1490. It became to be known as the Gül Mosque. That name may be explained by the presence of the tomb of Gül Baba or, more probably, by the fact that during the Fall of Constantinople on May 29, 1453 the church was adorned with garlands of roses (‘gül’ means ‘rose’ in Turkish). The night before, Emperor Constantine XI and Patriarch Athanasius II had participated at the feast of Saint Theodosia in the church and prayed for the city. The next morning, the Ottomans found many people still gathered in the church. They took them as prisoners of war, threw away the relics and cast the body of the saint to the dogs.


53.(-55.) Monastery of Christ Pantocrator

Zeyrek Mosque
İbadethane Arkası Sokak, İbadethane Sokak & Fazilet Sokak, Zeyrek

In 1118, Empress Irene of Hungary founded a monastery dedicated to the Christ Pantocrator on an eastern slope of the Fourth Hill of Constantinople. To the north of its katholikon, Emperor John II Komnenos soon added another church, dedicated to the Theotokos Eleousa (Merciful Mother of God). He also built a large funerary chapel, dedicated to Archangel Michael, to connect the two churches. These three structures must have been completed by October 1136, when the typikon of the monastery, one of the very few surviving, was issued.

The monastery is special in that no other Byzantine church, only the Church of the Holy Apostles excluded, received as many imperial burials. Both John II and Irene were buried here (in 1143 and 1134, respectively), followed by Emperor Manuel I (1180) and Empress Bertha of Sulzbach (1159). The tradition continued in the Palaiologan era, when emperors Manuel II (1425) and John VIII (1448) were laid to rest here. The typikon of the monastery describes the funerary chapel as a heroon, a term reserved for the mausoleum of Constantine the Great and his successors at the Church of the Holy Apostles, showing the imperial ambitions of the Komnenoi. The reputation of the monastery was further raised, when the icon of the Theotokos Hodegetria – the city’s most revered icon – was brought here.

The complex of the Monastery of Christ Pantocrator is the second largest religious edifice built by the Byzantines still standing.

Church of Christ Pantocrator (south church)

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Church of Christ Pantocrator (south church)


Chapel of Archangel Michael (on the left) and Church of Theotokos Eleousa (north church; on the right)

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The churches are both typical examples of the Middle Byzantine architecture. They have a cross-in-square plan: a nine-bay naos, a central dome supported by four columns (changed in the Ottoman era), a tripartite bema, and a narthex. They both had a matroneum, or a women’s gallery, above the narthex. In the south church, the central bay of the matroneum is also covered by a dome. The north church has only one dome, which is oval.

The Chapel of Archangel Michael has two bays. It is possible that the bay on the east functioned as a liturgical area, while the one on the west was a funerary space. The both bays of the chapel are capped by an elliptical dome.

Dome of the south church


Domes of the chapel


Dome of the north church


All the three structures have polygonal apses with windows and niches. The south church, which is larger, also has an exonarthex and a courtyard, which were added together with the north church and the chapel.

The masonry shows the use of the recessed-brick technique. It is slightly sloppy, incorporating bricks of different sizes. This may be explained by the fact that the building material comes from a much older structure, as hinted by the many Early Byzantine brick stamps that have been found here.

Brickwork on the apses of the chapel and the north church

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Brickwork on the apse of the chapel


The two churches and the chapel were richly decorated. The most beautiful decorative element that remains is the colourful opus sectile floor, covering the naos of the southern church. Motifs that are commonly found in imperial palaces can be seen here, such as birds of prey, fantastic beasts, and the wheel of the zodiac. Scenes from the life of Samson are also displayed. The floor is now, unfortunately, hidden under the carpet of the mosque.

Fragments of coloured glass have been found from the south church as well, suggesting the presence of stained-glass windows. The north church has intricate sculptural decorations, for example, on the capitals and cornices, which show traces of Armenian bole and gold leaf. Some traces of mosaics can also be found in the complex. There are also spolia from the Church of Saint Polyeuctus.

Cornice and traces of mosaics in the north church


Capitals in the north church


Marble revetments in the south church


According to the typikon, the monastery complex included a 50-bed hospital, a home for 24 elderly men, a medical school, and a leprosarium.

It has been suggested that, during the Fourth Crusade, the treasury of the monastery was raided and its contents was carried off to Venice. It may be that some panels of the Pala d’Oro, now serving as the altar retable in Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice, comes from the Monastery of Christ Pantocrator. During the Latin occupation in 1204-1261, the monastery served as the Venetian headquarters of Constantinople.


54. Library of the Monastery of Christ Pantocrator

Şeyh Süleyman Mosque
Zeyrek Caddesi 24, Zeyrek

The library of the monastery may have located 120 m south-west of the katholikon, in a building known today as the Şeyh Süleyman Mosque.

It is not clear when that building was constructed. It consists of a square substructure and a hexagonal superstructure with a dome supported by pendentives. The lower part is made of ashlar masonry, while in the upper part bricks are used. It is sometimes argued that it is a Palaiologan structure, but the masonry indicates that it is an older building. It may have been an Early Byzantine mausoleum. The pointed arches on the façade are part of an Ottoman renovation.



55. Pantocrator Cistern / Unkapanı Cistern

Atatürk Bulvarı, northeast of the katholikon
6th or early 12th century

The monastery was supplied with water by a number of cisterns. The largest of them covers an area of 18 m and 55 m. It is built inside a hill, and it has an exposed wall with a series of niches. According to some, its roots go back to the 6th century. The other cisterns here were built at the same time with the monastery.



56. Church of Hagios Ioannis Prodromos in Troullo

Hirami Ahmet Paşa Mosque
Koltukçu Sokak 4, Çarşamba
9th or 12th century

This small church dedicated to John the Baptist is located near the Church of Theotokos Pammakaristos in the conservative Çarşamba neighbourhood of Istanbul. Its appellation ‘en to Troullo’ (‘trullus’ means ‘dome’ in Latin) may be related to the vicinity of a domed palace.

The church is usually dated to the 12th century. It is a cross-in-square church with a tripartite bema and a narthex. Four columns support an octagonal drum which bears the dome. The arms of the cross to the north and south are covered with barrel vaults. The central apse, which projects boldly outside, is opened by a large window, divided in three by two pillars with capitals. There are other tripartite windows that lit the interior.

Some date the church to the 9th century. This may be due to the unadorned semicircular apses and the circular drum of the dome, which were common in the provinces in the 9th and 10th centuries. It is likely that the bema extended west in some period, to include the three eastern bays of the naos. Another factor that contributes to an earlier dating is the alternation of bands of ashlar and brick, which was typical in Constantinople from the 8th to the 10th century, but not thereafter, when the recessed-brick masonry dominated.

The church had primarily a funerary purpose. The narthex had at least four arcosolia. Two more arcosolia were located in the naos.


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Since 1456 the church served as a convent for nuns who had been evicted from the nearby Church of Pammakaristos, which had been made the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople. It was converted into a mosque between 1587 and 1598. The mosque has no minaret.


57. Church of Hagios Theodoros in Karbounaria

Vefa Mosque / Molla Gürani Mosque
Tirendaz Sokak, Molla Şemsettin Cami Sokak & Divan Efendi Sokak, Vefa
Church proper – 11th or 12th century; exonarthex – 13th or 14th century

This church, located in the Byzantine neighbourhood named after the coal market (karbounaria), is traditionally identified as the Church of Hagios Theodoros. It is a typical middle-Byzantine church. It has a cross-in-square plan. Its masonry shows the use of the recessed-brick technique. The exterior has occasional decorative motifs, such as snake patterns. The apse is interrupted by windows and niches.

Several structures were added to the church in the Palaiologan era. The most important of them was the five-bay exonarthex. It has a bipartite façade. The lower part has triple arcades (originally open), while on the upper part there are windows framed by large semicircular blind arcades. The masonry consists of alternating courses of red bricks and white stones, especially remarkable on the north façade.


The exonarthex has three domes. All of these were originally covered with mosaics, traces of which survive. The best preserved is the image of the Theotokos with Child Christ surrounded by eight prophets on one of the domes. The exonarthex is further decorated with columns, capitals, and closure slabs – all reused material from the Early Byzantine period.

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hagios_theodoros (4)

hagios_theodoros (2)

To the south-west corner of the church a belfry was added at the same time with the exonarthex. Similarly to the Chora Church, a two-storey annex on the north side can be found. Remains of underground cisterns have also been found under the south and west sides of the church, hinting to the existence of a monastery in the Byzantine period.


58. Church of Theotokos Kyriotissa

Kalenderhane Mosque
16 Mart Şehitleri Caddesi & Medrese Sokak, Vefa
1190s; sanctuary – 6th-12th centuries

This church, constructed at the end of the 12th century, was most probably dedicated to Theotokos Kyriotissa (Enthroned Mother of God). It is one of the most impressive Middle Byzantine buildings in Istanbul.

It is a cross-domed church (like the church housing the Gül Mosque and Hagia Sophia in Thessaloniki). The central bay of the naos is covered by a dome with the diameter of 8 m and with 16 ribs. Because of the larger scale of the church, the dome is supported by four massive piers instead of four slender columns as in a typical cross-in-square church. Deep barrel vaults form the side-arms of the cross. In the west, there is a narthex, which was originally surmounted by an upper gallery, like in the churches of the Monastery of Christ Pantocrator. An exonarthex was later added to the structure.

theotokos_kyriotissa (4)

theotokos_kyriotissa (3)

The interior is dominated by polychrome marble panels and mouldings. Only a third of these seen today are original. The rest is either secondary revetment or plaster imitating marble.

The masonry of the church is made of alternating layers of brick and stone.


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The oldest parts of the church are the bema, the prothesis, and the diaconicon. The prothesis is the apse of a church that was built on this site in the 6th century. That church may have been connected to a 4th- or 5th-century bathhouse. The bema of the 12th-century church uses the apse from a church which was built in the 7th century south of the older church. The diaconicon consists of two chapels, known as the Francis Chapel and Melismos Chapel, built in the Middle Byzantine period before the main church. The masonry of the Francis Chapel is similar to that of the northern church of the Monastery of Lips. The Melismos Chapel is made in the recessed-brick technique, which was common from the late 11th century on.

The bema was home to a mosaic representing the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. It probably comes from the earlier church and dates back to the 6th or 7th century, being the only surviving religious mosaic from the pre-Iconoclastic period in Constantinople, and the earliest surviving representation of the hypapante in Byzantine art.

Mosaic of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple from the Church of Theotokos Kyriotissa (late 6th or early 7th century; Istanbul Archaeology Museum)


The Francis Chapel housed a fresco cycle portraying the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. It is the oldest representation of the saint, painted only some years after his death, in the mid-13th century, when the church was being used by the Franciscans. The fresco cycle, too, can be found in the Istanbul Archaeology Museums.

After the Fall of Constantinople the church was given by Sultan Mehmed II to the Kalenderi sect of dervishes, after whom today’s mosque is named.