Greek Sites of Istanbul

There are many structures in Istanbul built by Greeks after the Fall of 1453. Lots of them have a long and complicated history, and many surviving buildings replace earlier ones destroyed by fires and earthquakes. Like in case of the Armenian churches in Istanbul, the Greek buildings that can be seen today mostly date from the 19th century. Constructions and reconstructions were especially frequent after the end of the Greek War of Independence in 1830.

The most important building in my portfolio is the Church of Saint George that serves as the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Other churches can be found in Greek neighbourhoods such as Phanar (Fener), Tatavla (Kurtuluş), Psamatheia (Samatya) and Neochorion (Yeniköy), on the Princes’ Islands, and elsewhere. Some of them, like the Church of Saint Mary of Blachernae, the Monastery of Saint Mary of the Spring and the Church of Saint Euphemia, have a great historical value. Some are modest neighbourhood churches.

The portfolio is in no way complete, but it includes the most important and visible post-1453 Greek buildings in the city. (My portfolio about the Byzantine sites of Istanbul can be found here.) I have not included private buildings in the list as, compared to monasteries, churches, cemeteries and schools, their ‘Greekness’ can be more difficult to identify, especially in a multicultural city like Istanbul. I have organized the buildings by neighbourhood, without paying much attention to the chronology. When it comes to churches and monasteries, I have given both their original Greek names and the English translation, to facilitate finding more information about them (as the church names are sometimes translated and sometimes not in different sources).

I took around half of the photos between November 2015 and January 2016. The second half of the photos are from between September and November 2018.

Take a look at the map below to see the locations of the sites of this portfolio.


Part One: Historical Peninsula


1. Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople: Cathedral of Saint George

Οἰκουμενικόν Πατριαρχεῖον Κωνσταντινουπόλεως: Καθεδρικός ναός του Αγίου Γεωργίου
(Oikoumenikon Patriarcheion Konstantinoupoleos: Kathedrikos naos tou Hagiou Georgiou)

Dr. Sadık Ahmet Caddesi south of junction with Yıldırım Caddesi, Fener

The Church of Saint George is the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, making it the mother-church of the world’s Eastern Orthodox Christians.

The Patriarchate started its live in Hagia Eirene. Since the reign of Constantine the Great until the Fall of Constantinople it had its seat in Hagia Sophia (with the exception of the period of the Latin occupation, when the patriarchs resided in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Nicaea). After the Ottoman conquest, the patriarchate was given shelter in the precincts of the Church of the Holy Apostles (1453-1456). Three years later it found a more permanent home in the Monastery of Theotokos Pammakaristos (1456-1587). When it was announced that the latter monastery was to be turned into a mosque, the Patriarchate had to move again, first to the Church of Theotokos Paramythia (1587-1597) and then to the Church of Hagios Demetrius Kanavou in Xyloporta (1597-1601/2). From there it moved to the current location inside the old sea walls. Soon after the Phanar (Fener) neighborhood became the recognised centre of the Greeks in the city.

The church itself is rather modest. Its appearance today rests to a large amount on the 1797 restoration of an earlier church. It is located in a courtyard which can be entered via a tripartite gate, the central section of which, the Middle Gate, is painted black and permanently closed in memory of Patriarch Gregory V, who was hanged in front of it in 1821, at the onset of the Greek War of Independence.

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The complex has suffered from several fires. The most precious objects that have been saved are the patriarchal throne, which is believed to date from the 5th century, and a mosaic icon of Saint John the Baptist on the right side of the iconostasis.

The Patriarchate also has a very famous library.


2. Phanar Greek Orthodox College

Μεγάλη του Γένους Σχολή (Megali tou Genous Scholi, ‘Great School of the Nation’)

Sancaktar Yokuşu 36, Fener
Konstantinos Dimadis, 1881-1883

This massive red-brick building near the Fifth Hill of Constantinople between Fener and Çarşamba was designed by an Ottoman Greek architect Konstantinos Dimadis with the money donated by Georgios Zariphis, a prominent Ottoman Greek banker. It was built in 1881-1883 and its architecture follows a wide range of styles.

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The school itself was established in 1454, making it the oldest surviving Greek Orthodox school in Istanbul. It is also the most prestigious one of them, since, for example, many Ottoman ministers and Wallachian and Moldavian princes graduated from it.

On its first floor, there is a chamber of ceremonies decorated with murals depicting Pericles, Alexander the Great, Constantine the Great, and the Apostle Paul interspersed with motifs taken from classical Athenian pottery. The large dome of the building has a big antique telescope inside and is used as an observatory for astronomy classes.


3. Maraşlı Greek Primary School

Dr. Sadık Ahmet Caddesi 17, Fener

This Neoclassical building, which, perhaps, better conveys the atmosphere of the old Phanar than the complex of the Patriarchate a few steps away, was a Greek primary school. It was established by Grigorios Maraslis, the mayor of Odessa and and a philanthropist who sponsored many buildings in Odessa, Greece and the Ottoman Empire. Maraslis, however, did not like how the building came out to be and withdrew his support right after. The school survived on the basis of donations from the Patriarchate and the local community. It still had a few students some years ago, but it is not in use any longer.



4. Church of Saint Mary the Consoler

Παναγία Παραμυθία (Panagia Paramythia)

Çimen Sokak 3, Balat
Mid-19th century

In this area once stood a palace of the rulers of Wallachia (Vlach Saray). The church was built here in 1578. It stands in ruins now, which is why it may be surprising to learn that it once served as the seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople (1587- 1597). The church suffered in fire multiple times. It was rebuilt in 1730 and then again in the 19th century. The last church burned down in 1970.


Next to this church stands the 19th-century Church of Saint George, a metochion of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.


5. Church of Saint John the Baptist

Ιωάννης ο Πρόδρομος (Ioannis o Prodromos)

Mürselpaşa Caddesi 12, Balat
18th-19th centuries

The history of this church goes back to the Byzantine era. In a document from 1334 it is mentioned that the church here was dedicated to Saint John, “the Forerunner and the Baptist of the Hunters”, after the gate of the Golden Horn walls of the same name. According to a document from 1394 the saint of the church was Saint Nicholas. It was destroyed in 1593, after which it was rebuilt again under the name of Saint John. It burned down in 1640.

In 1686 the church went under the jurisdiction of the Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai. It was rebuilt in the same year as the monastery’s metochion with the help of the Russian ambassador to Constantinople. It was renovated in 1729, and burned again in 1730. It was rebuilt after and also renovated in 1851-1855.



6. Church of Saint Mary of Balinou

Παναγία Μπαλίνου (Panagia Balinou)

Mahkeme Altı Caddesi 59, Balat

This basilica takes it name from Paulinus, a magister officiorum during the reign of Theodosius II in the first half of the 5th century. There was probably a church here in 1597. The current church is from 1843. There is a holy spring in the narthex of the church.



7. Church of Saint Demetrius of Kanabos in Xyloporta

Ἅγιος Δημήτριος Καναβού τῆς Ξυλόπορτας (Hagios Demetrios Kanavou tis Xyloportas)

Kırkambar Sokak 6, Ayvansaray

This church is located in the neighbourhood that was originally named after the Wooden Gate (Xyloporta) in the city walls. It possibly stands on the site of a 4th-century church, which was located in the vicinity the original Blachernae and Theodosian Walls. Another church was founded here by the emperor-elect Nicholas Kanabos in 1204, just before the sack of the city by the Fourth Crusaders. That church served as the centre of the Patriarchate of Constantinople from 1597 to 1601 or 1602, when the patriarchal seat moved to the Church of Saint George in Phanar.

The current church is from 1730, while some of  its elements are older (e.g. some icons of the iconostasis, 1704). Like several other churches in the area, it has a hagiasma. It was renovated in 1835, 1933, 1960 and 1995.



8. Church of Saint Mary of Blachernae

Θεοτόκος των Βλαχερνών (Theotokos ton Vlachernon)

Mustafa Paşa Bostanı Sokak & Ayvansaray Kuyusu Sokağı, Ayvansaray

This church was built in 1867 on the site of one of the most important Greek Orthodox sanctuaries from the 5th to the 15th century. Into the church opens a spring which is supposed to have curative powers and which attracted pilgrims already in pre-Christian times.

In 450, Empress Pulcheria had a church built here. Later two pilgrims from the Holy Land donated a veil believed to have been worn by the Virgin Mary which they had stolen from Jerusalem. This turned it into the most sacred shrine in the city. The frequent visits made by Byzantine emperors is the reason why they built the Palace of Blachernae nearby. The church hosted a famous icon of the Virgin, named Blachernitissa after the church. It was considered by the Byzantines to be the holiest and the most powerful talisman, and it was believed to have helped the soldiers drive out the Avars that had besieged the city in 626.

The church and the area around it burnt down in 1434. The neighborhood was largely neglected until the 19th century. The new church bears the same name as the old one.

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9. Church of Saint Mary of Souda

Παναγία τῆς Σούδας (Panagia tis Soudas)

Eğrikapı Caddesi 11, Ayvansaray

The Church of Saint Mary of Souda is located near the Kaligaria Gate, or the Eğri Kapı, on a slope leading down to the poor back streets of Ayvansaray. It stands on the site of a Byzantine church, possibly dedicated to Saint Nicetas the Goth. The current church is from 1830, built on the site of a church that burned down in 1640 and 1728. It was recently renovated and seems to be in a good condition. A school is said to operate in its huge garden.

I haven’t been able to figure out what the name ’tis Soudas’ means. It has been suggested that the name goes back to the Cretans from the town near Chania that settled here. However, it is more probable that, instead, the name makes a reference to the church’s location near the city walls. 



10. Church of Saint Mary of the Heavens

Παναγία τῶν Οὐρανῶν (Panagia ton Ouranon)

Özben Sokak 2, Edirnekapı

This inconspicuous church on the road ascending from Balat to Edirnekapı is dedicated to Saint Mary of the Heavens. Its history goes back to the 17th and 18th centuries, and it may have served as an Armenian church at some point. It’s a typical three-nave basilica, with a hagiasma in the north aisle.



11. Church of Saint George

Άγιος Γεώργιος (Hagios Georgios)

Kaleboyu Caddesi 15, Edirnekapı
Hacı Nikolaos, 1834-1836

This church is located near the Gate of Charisius in the Theodosian Walls. There was a 9th-century monastery not far from it. It was destroyed in 1555-1556 to make space for the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, and the church was then rebuilt next to mosque. The current church is from 1834-1386. It was the church of a prosperous community, as there were many windmills owned by Greeks and Bulgarians in this area and the flour business flourished here. In 2014-2017, the church underwent a restoration by the Directorate General of Foundations.



12. Church of Saint Demetrius

Άγιος Δημήτριος (Hagios Demetrios)

Prof. Naci Şensoy Caddesi 149, Edirnekapı

The church in the old Roma neighborhood dates from 1834. An earlier church was here at least in 1604.



13. Church of Saint Nicholas

Άγιος Νικόλαος (Hagios Nikolaos)

Kaynata Sokak 4, Topkapı
Konstantinos Yolasigmazis, 1831

This church, located close to the Fifth Military Gate of the Theodosian Walls, was built over the ruins of a Byzantine church (possibly from the Macedonian period). It was originally dedicated to Saint George. The current church is, like the Armenian church a few steps away in the south, dedicated to Saint Nicholas. It is a three-nave basilica, and it has an hagiasma.



14. Monastery of Saint Mary of the Spring

Θεοτόκος τῆς Πηγῆς (Theotokos tis Pigis)
Ζωοδόχος Πηγή (Zoödochos Pigi, or Zoödochos Pege, ‘the Life-Giving Spring’)

Balıklı Sivrikapı Sokak 3, Balıklı

This monastery, located outside the Theodosian Walls, is famous for its holy spring. It has been one of the most important sites of pilgrimage in the Greek Orthodox world for more than one and a half thousand years.

The monastery was possibly founded by Leo I the Thracian (457-474) before he became the emperor. According to the tradition, when Leo was a soldier, he met a blind man who asked him for water. The voice of Virgin Mary is said to have directed him to a water source and told him to rub mud over the blind man’s eyes. Leo did it, which restored the blind man’s sight. He built a shrine in honour of Mary. That shrine may have been replaced by a larger church by Emperor Justinian in around 560. Justinian used the surplus materials of Hagia Sophia for the construction of that new church.

The monastery was an important site of imperial celebrations, such as the Feast of the Ascension or the reception by the Emperor of each future Empress coming to Constantinople. In the Palaiologan era, it gave birth to a new type of iconography, which depicts the Virgin holding the Christ Child, sitting in a basin from which water flows. It possibly developed from the mosaic in the dome of the hagiasma. This type of icon became widespread in the Greek world and other Orthodox countries, where there were later a number of churches and monasteries established near miraculous springs. (One example is the Pühtitsa Convent in Estonia.)

In the Ottoman era, the area came to be known as Balıklı, named after the fish in the spring. According to a legend, a monk was frying a fish nearby when he heard of the capture of the city by the Ottomans. He could not believe it until the fish that was on the pan had jumped back to the spring half-fried. Some decades later the Ottomans destroyed the monastery, and used its stones to build the Bayezid II Mosque. The pilgrims, however, continued to come to the hagiasma in the subsequent centuries, some of whom are said to have witnessed fish with different colours on either side swimming in it.


In place of the old church, a chapel was built in 1727. The current building is from 1833-1835. It is a three-nave basilica with a narthex and a bell tower. The interior is richly decorated. The spring is located in a crypt outside the church.

In front of the church, a number of tombs of wealthy Greeks and some patriarchs can be found, mostly from the 19th and 20th centuries. Notable are the gravestones of the Karamanlides – Greek-Orthodox Christians from the Karaman and Cappadocia provinces in Central Anatolia, who speak Turkish but write it using the Greek alphabet and whose liturgy is Greek Orthodox.


The complex is surrounded by large Greek and Armenian cemeteries, making it unusually peaceful a place for such a built-up city like Istanbul.


15. Church of Saint Mary of Belgrade

Παναγία του Βελιγραδίου (Panagia tou Veligradiou)

Hacı Hamza Mektebi Sokak 61, Yedikule

This church is located near the Xylokerkos Gate of the Theodosian Walls. The Gate was later renamed after Serbs from Belgrade who had been brought here during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent (Belgradkapı). The church was built by the Serbian immigrants in 1523. It was dedicated to Saint Paraskevi, and her relics were brought here. These were later moved to the more prestigious Greek churches in the city, after which the church got its current name.



16. Church of Saint George

Άγιος Γεώργιος (Hagios Georgios)

Org. Abdurrahman Nafiz Gürman Caddesi & Büyük Kuleli Sokak, Samatya

The history of this church can be traced back to 1132. According to a description from the 17th century, it had a Byzantine dome. The current church is from 1834.


The yellow plaster that once covered the church has been removed, making it possible to admire its masonry.



17. Church of Saint Menas

Άγιος Μηνάς (Hagios Minas)

Bestekar Hakkı Sokak 1, Samatya

Beneath this church is a brick-domed Mausoleum of Saints Carpus and Papylus from the 4th or the 5th century, the oldest mausoleum in the city. In 1604, there was a domed Church of Saint Polycarp here as well as an hagiasma dedicated to Saint Menas. That church was destroyed in the great fire of Samatya of 1782. This current church was built in 1833. It got severely damaged during the 1955 Istanbul pogrom.



18. Church of the Ascension of Christ

Θεία Ανάληψη (Theia Analipsi)

Akıncı Sokak and Büyük Kuleli Sokak, Samatya

A church stood on this site already in the Byzantine era or at least in 1578, when Stephan Gerlach, a German theologue who was visiting Constaninople, mentioned its hagiasma in his travelogue. That church burnt down in 1782. The current church is from 1832.



19. Church of Saint Nicholas

Άγιος Νικόλαος (Hagios Nikolaos)

Muallim Fevzi Sokak 3, Samatya

This small church is thought to have been destroyed during the Greek War of Independence. It was reconstructed in 1834.



20. Church of Saints Constantine and Helen

Άγιοι Κωνσταντίνος και Ελένη (Hagioi Konstantinos kai Eleni)

İmrahor İlyasbey Caddesi & Kilise Sokak, Samatya

This church was built on the site of a 16th-century chapel in 1805. It has been used by the Karamanlides. The church was heavily damaged during the September pogrom of 1955.



21. Church of Saint Mary of Hope

Παναγία της Ελπίδας (Panagia tis Elpidas)

Gerdanlık Sokak 4/1, Kumkapı

It is possible that this eclectic church stands on the site of a 14th-century monastery with the same dedication.