Architecture of Greek-Orthodox churches in Istanbul (1453 - today)
The Greek-orthodox churches of Constantinople have a long and turbulent history, since they are mentioned in the sources from the 16th century onwards. They have suffered natural disasters (earthquakes, fires), but also the consequences from all purges of the Greek-orthodox population in the 19th and 20th centuries.
2. Brief historical review
After the Fall of Constantinople, the building complexes of the great Byzantine monasteries will pass into the possession of the conquerors and most will be transformed into mosques,1 like St. Theodosia (Gül camii), Hagioi Theodoroi (Kilise camii), the Lips Monastery (Fenari İsa camii), the Myrelaion Monastery (Bodrum Camii), the Church of the Virgin Pammakaristos (Fethiye camii), the Monastery of Christ Pantepoptes (Eski İmaret Camii), the Pantokrator Monastery (Zeirek camii), the Monastery of Sts Sergios and Bakchos (Küçük Aya Sofya camii), the Stoudios Monastery (İmrahor camii), the Chora Monastery (Kariye camii), the St Andrew in Krisei Monastery (Koca Mustafa Paşa camii), Monastery of Christ Akataleptos (Kalenderhane camii), the Monastery of Sts Peter and Mark (Atik Mustafa Paşa camii), the Mpnasteries of St John in Trullo (Ahmet Paşa mescidi) and St Thekla (Toklu İmbrahim Dede mescidi). Quite a few monuments, like the monastery of St George of Mangana will be destroyed,2 while some Byzantine churches will be used in a different way, like Hagia Eirene which was transformed into an armory3 and later on into a museum, and the Holy Apostles, on whose ground the Fatih Mosque was built. The religious sites of the Christian population residing within the city walls were driven away from the city centre, parish churches, however, remained in the seaside districts of the Golden Horn (Balatkapı, Fener, Ayakapı), the Sea of Marmaras (Kumkapı, Yenikapı, Samatya) and near the city walls (Belgradkapı, Silivrikapı, Topkapı, Sarmasık, Edirnekapı,Tekfursarayı, Eğrikapı, Ayvansaray).
These churches are recorded in sources4 dating back to the 16th century, a fact that verifies that the distribution of the parishes within the complex upheavals that followed the Fall (social, financial, religious etc.), has been concluded by that time.
Constant renovations in churches are chronicled in the following centuries, without, however, sufficient documentation of their architectural features. Architectural data is rarely recorded in archives, while most the buildings still standing have been constructed in the 18th and, mainly, the 19th century. This happened because of multiple factors of disaster: both external, like natural disasters (earthquakes, fires), and internal, mainly due to human intervention (destruction from war, renovations, radical reconstruction etc.)
The churches of Constantinople often faced large-scale destructions. Fires destroy churches in the Fanari (Fener) and Balat districts in mid-17th century (around 1640)5 and in the beginning of the 18th.6 During the 1720 fire, the districts of Fanari (Fener) and Petrion will be afflicted, while the Patriarchal Church will be reconstructed from scratch. During the following fire of 1730, eleven churches are destroyed in the Fanari (Fener) and Balat districts.7
During the Greek War for Independence in 1821, most of the parish churches in Constantinople and neighbouring areas, as well as elsewhere in the Ottoman Empire, will be destroyed by the insurrected mob8, while some of them are rebuilt after 1830.
In 1923 the priest Pavlos Karachisaridesfounds the Turkish-orthodox Patriarchy, appoints himself Patriarch with the name Efthim and is recognized by the Turkish state, in the context of its polemic towards the Ecumenical Patriarchy.9 In 1924 he takes over the Church of Virgin Kafatiani in Galata, where he establishes his patriarchal, see while he also claims St John of the Chians, St Nicholas and the – demolished today – church of Sotiras (Christ Savior) in Galata. The aforementioned churches, as well as part of the community’s wealth, were confiscated for the needs of the (non-existing) Turkish orthodox people.
The churches of the Greek-orthodox community in Constantinople will take another great blow in early September 1955. The destruction and pillage of the community’s other property and institutions notwithstanding, the religious sites were even more ill-fated, being set on fire and, generally, abused. Most churches will be plundered and some will be totally destroyed due to the zealotry of the Turkish mob.10 Moreover, the communities will take upon themselves the financial burden of repairing the churches, since the indemnities given by the Turkish state were insufficient compared to the real cost of the destruction.
3. Ecclesiastical architecture
Most of the parish churches in use even today in Constantinople and the neighboring Episcopal districts of Derka, Chalkedon and Pringiponnisa are three-aisled basilicas. Dome-churches represent only a small percentage of the parish churches and are dated after mid-19th century. There are only two exceptions of churches totally reconstructed: St Euphemia of Chalkedon (1832) and St George Kyparissas of Ypsomatheia (Samatya) (1834). The first dome-church being constructed after the Tanzimat reformation is St Nicholas of Chalke (1857), followed by St Athanasius of Tatavla, built with its bell tower in 1858.
The destruction that followed the 1821 Greek Revolution, but also the 1955 incidents, left deep marks in ecclesiastical architecture, often eliminating valuable evidence of historical documentation and continuity, while, at the same time, hindering research. Around the 1st third of the 19th century, an extensive renovating or constructing phase is recorded for most of the monuments,11 while the documentation of previous building phases demands further research. It is, however, possible to make a few typological and morphological observations,12 which, in sum, have as follows:
3. 1. Typology
The dominant structure is a cohesive prismatic massive building, with a women’s section on the west side, mainly, and on the first floor. Because of the limited extent of land in the urban plexus, the churches often have limited yard space. They roofs are mostly gabled, without the characteristic cuts often met in the period’s church-building, while complex roofing is involved in the extension of the narthex, mainly on the west side, like in the Virgin of Suda in Eğrikapı, the Virgin Hatzeriotissa in Tekfursaray and on both sides in St George of Edirnekapı. The later narthex additions, usually with light wooden constructions, are typological elements characteristic of the final decades of the 19th century, with which the space is expanded to the west, accommodating the access to the yard.
In contrast to the Byzantine monuments of Constantinople, characterized by the complexity of their façade, post-Byzantine basilicas are simpler, have a restricted number of openings and present more elaborated characteristics only their west side. There are windows and doorways on the ground floor, while on the first floor, where the women’s section is, there is a second row of openings, like in the churches of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary in Pera (Galatasaray) and of the Virgin of Suda in Eğrikapı, and in the Monastery of the Zoodochos Pigi at Balıklı. Regarding the pediment (in contrast to the basilicas in northern Greece and on the islands of the north-eastern Aegean, where the openings are smaller – skylights - and in many patterns), the three-window arrangement prevails,13 providing the necessary light for the women’s section, when there are not any other openings. Churches with archways, like St Nicholas of Cibali, the St George’s Patriarchal Church and Virgin Kafatiani in Galata, or churches with rows of pillars, like the Monastery of the Zoodochos Pege at Balıklı, the St Paraskevi of Pikridio (Hasköy), the church of the Presentation of the Virgin in Pera, the church of the Dormition of the Virgin Kumariotissa in Neochori (Yeniköy), the church of the Dormition of the Virgin Diplokioniou (Beşıktaş), are rare to be found. These loggias, however, are later on covered by window sashes or altered by the impletion of the arches and the construction of windows, like in the churches of St Nicholas of Neochori (Yeniköy) and the Virgin of Balino.
On the inside, most churches have three naves, with the central one being more spacious than the other two and covered by dome. The side naves have level or canted roofs, while their floor is one gradine higher than the central nave. The internal colonnade consists of 4, 5 or 6 pairs of pillars (in larger churches there are up to 8 pairs of pillars). Quite a few churches have only one apse, while the larger ones up to three.
In total contrast to the elaborately decorated façade of the Byzantine monuments in the capital, the façade of the three-nave post-Byzantine basilicas are simple with hardly any decorative element, indicating an intense sense of introversion. The few openings show some kind of normality, so that the windows of the main building are designed axially to the internal colonnades. This arrangement intensifies the impression of length given to the façade. On the west side, an effort to combine the openings, the inscriptions etc. is usually apparent, as well as a basic scission in distinctive zones, like in the Hagioi Theodoroi Monastery in Vlaga and the St George’s Patriarchal Church. In a few occasions the west side is also very simple like in the church of St Menas of Psomathia (Samatya). On the pediment, the three-window, usually rectangular, arrangement prevails. The lintel of the windows on this side is often canted, following the roof pattern. Here, there are either circular skylights or more complex arrangements with the central skylight being circular and the ones on the side almond-shaped. Façades with archways or rows of pillars are rare, and even if these loggias exist, they are later on closed with window-sashes or altered. Initially, the churches had visible masonry and posterior lime-casts in their façades,14 like in St Phocas of Mesachoron (Ortaköy), Virgin of Suda in Eğrikapı, Virgin Hatzeriotissa in Tekfursaray and St Demetrius of Pringipos, while later on they are lined with isodomic stones, like in the Monastery of the Zoodochos Pege at Balıklı and St Demetrius of Tatavla.
In contrast to Byzantine monuments of the capital, the church’s niche is unornamented and often inaccessible to the visitor. It is usually formed in a semicircular plan both externally an internally. Multi-angular apses are found in the church of the Holy Ascension Ypsomatheia (Samatya) (five-sided) and Virgin Kafatiani (nine-sided). In St George Potiras and St Menas of Psomatheia (Samatya), the church’s niche is formed internally with a curve or gradines, but is not visible on the outside.
Inside the churches, the central naves are mainly roofed with low and elliptic arches, while the side ones are level-roofed. The usual roofing, typical in many latish churches, consists of planks and simple joint-covers while in earlier ones there are crossed diamond-shaped joint-covers (baklavotes). Many churches like St Phocas of Mesachoron (Ortaköy), St Demetrius of Xerokrini (Kuruçeşme), the church of the Annunciation of the Virgin in Vapheochori (Boyacıköy), St Nicholas of Neochori (Yeniköy), the Hagioi Theodoroi Monastery in Vlaga, St Menas of Psomatheia (Samatya), the church of the Birth of the Virgin in the Belgrade Forest and Prophet Elias in Chrysopolis (Üsküdar), have false roofs made of lath. The roof of the central nave is formed with a curve, usually with veins, while the side ones are level-roofed.15 Finally, there are some cases of more complex false roofs, but not parts of hemispheres (cupolas), by combination of arches and cross-domes, like in Monastery of the Zoodochos Pigi at Balıklı and St Demetrius of Pringipos.16
Arches of early Islamic influence can be found in the colonnades, often concerning 18th century churches, like St John the Precursor (dependency of the Mount Sinai Monastery) or St Demetrius of Xyloporta (Ayvansaray). Semicircular arches in the colonnades can be found in the churches of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary in Pera, St Nicholas in Galata, the Virgin Kafatiani, St Demetrius of Tatavla, St Demetrius of Xerokrini (Kuruçeşme), the Hagioi Theodoroi Monastery in Vlaga, the Most Blessed Taxiarchs of Megalo Revma (Arnavutköy), St Demetrius of Pringipos, Prophet Elias in Chrysopolis (Üsküdar), the Transfiguration of Christ Savior in Kandilli, St Stephen in Yeşilköy, while crossed semicircular and elliptic arches form the archway in St John of the Chians. The epistyles are also often used because the roofs are quite low in height (they were considered a simpler and cheaper construction compared to lath arches). Respectively, the external lining of the wooden columns in order to transform them into wood-lined pillars is also a simpler procedure construction-wise, compared to lath lining or coiling with rope. There are rows of pillars in St Paraskevi of Pikridio (Hasköy), the church of the Dormition of the Virgin Diplokioniou (Beşıktaş), the church of the Annunciation of the Virgin in Vapheochori (Boyaciköy), the church of the Holy Ascension in Psomatheia, St Nicholas in Topkapı, Virgin Hatzeriotissa in Tekfursaray, St Paraskevi in Vathurryax (Büyükdere) and the church of the Dormition of the Virgin in Pringipos.
The women’s section parapet is formed by a wooden or lath construction, which until mid-19th century displays ductility of form, while later on it follows western influences and is produced rectilinearly. Characteristically concave/corvex is the parapet in the women’s section in the churches of St John of the Chians in Galata, St George Edirnekapı, St George Potiras in Fanari (Fener) and Virgin of the Skies (Salmatomruk). In churches of the capital, two-storey women’s sections can be found in St George’s Patriarchal Church and St Phocas of Mesachoron (Ortaköy).
The tall wood-carved chancel screens carrying baroque influences (exceptional masterpieces from the churches of Constantinople), are typical examples of wood-carving up until the middle of the 19th century. They still exist in only a handful of churches in Constantinople having survived multitude disasters, like in St George’s Patriarchal Church, the church of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary in Pera, St Demetrius of Tatavla, St Paraskevi of Pikridio (Hasköy), the Most Blessed Taxiarchs of Megalo Revma (Arnavutköy), St George (dependency of the Holy Sepulchre), St John the Precursor (dependency of the Mount Sinai Monastery), Holy Trinity Monastery in Chalki.
During the final decades of the century, wood-carving is especially influenced by the developments in marble-sculpture and the design shifts towards the European model, with elements from the French Second Empire style. Typical examples are the chancel screens in St Phocas of Mesachoron (Ortaköy) and the church of the Annunciation of the Virgin in Vapheochori (Boyacıköy), in which the central part is quite bold, contrary to their counterparts on Grecian soil.
The churches’ bell-towers are later, independent constructions, usually tower-shaped, while the luxury and quality factor varies.
After the middle of the 19th century, with the legislation concerning churches under change, new domed churches with bell-towers are constructed, like St Athanasius of Tatavla, built in 1858, while existing churches will be renovated into domed ones. The most important churches are St Nicholas of Chalke (1857), St Paraskevi of Therapeia (Tarapya), St Nicholas of Pringipos, (1860), Sts Constantine and Helen of Stavrodromi (1861), the Twelve Apostles of Feriköy (1868), Prophet Elias of Megalo Revma (Arnavutköy) (1871), Holy Trinity of Taksim (1876), Holy Trinity of Kadıköy (1905), the church of the Transfiguration of Christ in Şişli (1890), the church of the Assumption of the Virgin in Tatavla (1893), St Kyriaki of Kontoskali (Kumkapı) (1894), Virgin Hope of Kontoskali (Kumkapı) (1895), St John the Precursor of Antigone (1899). These churches are built in the type of the cross-domed basilica, they are sometimes constructed by master mechanics and indicate influences by grecian church-building, as well as the eclecticism movement. Some of the architects are known: St Nicholas of Chalki is attributed to Hadji-Stefanis Gaitanakis. St Athanasius of Tatavla to the apprentices Panagiotis and Hadji-Coastas Maltezakis, Sts Constantine and Helen of Stavrodromi to the apprentice K. G. Karatzas, the Twelve Apostles of Feriköy and the Holy Trinity of Taksim to Vassilakis Bey Ioannides, Prophet Elias of Megalo Revma to the architect Paschalis, the church of the Transfiguration of Christ in Şişli to Alexandre Vallaury, the church of the Annunciation of the Virgin in Tatavla to Petrakis D. Meimarides, St Kyriaki of Kontoskali to Pericles Photiades, the Virgin Hope of Kontoskali to the apprentice Vassilis Tsilenis and St John the Precursor of Antigone to Nikolaus Demades.
Their architectural style is quite different compared to the previous three-nave type, indicating their creators’ preoccupation with both ductility and morphology. At the same time, they serve as witness to the boom of the Greek-orthodox population of Constantinople.
1. See Müller-Wiener, W. – Schiele, R. – Schiele, W., Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls (Tübingen 1977).
2. See Demangel, R. – Mamboury, E., [Le] quartier des Manganes et la première région de Constantinople (Paris 1939).
3. See Janin, R., [La] géographie ecclésiastique de l’Empire byzantine (Paris 1953), pp. 103 - 6.
4. See Gilles, P., [The] antiquities of Constantinople, Ball, J. (transl.) (London 1729), who visits Constantinople in 1547, while a map with the most important monuments is also included, see table 2, «The delineation of Constantinople as it stood in the year 1422 before it fell under the dominion of the Turks». Also see Heineccius, J.-M., D. Eigentliche und wahrhafftige Abbildung der alten und neuen Griechischen Kirche: nach ihrer Historie, Glaubens-Lehren und Kirchen-Gebräuchen: in III. Theilen, nebst einem curieusen Anhange unterschiedlicher hierzu dienlicher und zum Theil noch ungedruckter Schrifften Gerhardi Titii, Stephani Gerlachii, und anderer mehr: alles mit höchster Treu und Fleiss abgefasset, auch mit nöthigen Kupfern und Registern versehen (Leipzig 1711), with data from 1573. Ten years later, in 1583, the Russian monk Tryphon Karabeinikov visits Constantinople and Antonios Paterakis in 1604. Both sources are mentioned by Al. Papadopoulos-Kerameus in his article, «Ναοὶ τῆ ς Κωνσταντινουπόλεως κατὰ τὸ 1583 καὶ 1604», ΚΕΦΣ 28 (1904), pp. 118-138, with supplementary observations in the form of notes by X. Siderides, in pp. 139-143.
5. See Κομνηνός-Υψηλάντης, Αθ., Ἐκκλησιαστικῶν καὶ πολιτικῶν, τῶν εἰ ς δώδεκα, βιβλίον Η’, Θ’ καὶ Ι’, ἤ τοι, Τὰ μετὰ τὴ ν Ἅλωσιν, (1453-1789) (Constantinople 1870), p. 144.
6. See Κομνηνός-Υψηλάντης, Αθ., Ἐκκλησιαστικῶν καὶ πολιτικῶν, τῶν εἰ ς δώδεκα, βιβλίον Η’, Θ’ καὶ Ι’, ἤ τοι, Τὰ μετὰ τὴ ν Ἅλωσιν, (1453-1789) (Cosntantinople 1870), p. 313.
7. See Κομνηνός-Υψηλάντης, Αθ., Ἐκκλησιαστικῶν καὶ πολιτικῶν, τῶν εἰ ς δώδεκα, βιβλίον Η’, Θ’ καὶ Ι’, ἤ τοι, Τὰ μετὰ τὴ ν Ἅλωσιν, (1453-1789) (Constantinople 1870), pp. 327-8.
8. In April 22, 1821, 13 churches are destroyed in the Fanari (Fener) district, see Δεσποτόπουλος, Αλ., «Η στάση του σουλτάνου ύστερα από την έναρξη της επαναστάσεως στην Ελλάδα. Νέοι άγριοι διωγμοί. Απαγχονισμός του Πατριάρχη», ΙΕΕ, vol. 12, p. 135.
9. Papa-Efthim and the Turkish-orthodox Patriarchy were never recognized by any Christian dogma or other religion, see Βερέμης, Αθ., «Οἱ διεθνεῖς σχέσεις τῆς Ἑλλάδος (1923-1925)», ΙΕΕ, vol.15, p. 287.
10. See Βρυώνης, Σ., Ο μηχανισμός της καταστροφής, το τουρκικό πογκρόμ της 6ης-7ης Σεπτεμβρίου 1955 και ο αφανισμός της ελληνικής κοινότητας της Κωνσταντινούπολης (Athens 2007), pp. 599-602, table 56, with the detailed damages suffered by Greek-0orthodox churches.
11. For the churches’ dedicatory inscriptions see Δράκος, Ε., «Ἐν τῇ Ἀρχιεπισκοπῇ Κωνσταντινουπόλεως σύγχρονοι ἑλληνικαὶ ἐπιγραφαὶ», Ἐκκλησιαστικαὶ σελίδες, ἤτοι Σμύρνης ἱεράρχαι ἀπὸ τῆς ἀποστολικῆς ἐποχῆς μέχρι σήμερον, ἑπτᾶ μοναστήρια Μοσχονησίων καὶ ἐπίσημα ἔγγραφα ἐν οἷς σιγίλλια, ὑπομνήματα καὶ χρυσόβουλα (Athens 1891), pp. 77-100. Also see Karaca, Z., İstanbul’ da Osmanlı Dönemi Rum Kiliseleri (İstanbul 2001).
12. See Tsitimaki, «Παρατηρήσεις στις τρίκλιτες βασιλικές της Αρχιεπισκοπής Κωνσταντινουπόλεως (19ος αι.)», Δελτίον Εταιρείας Μελέτης της Καθ’ Ημάς Ανατολής, εφεξής ΔΕΤΜΕΛΑΝ, 1 (Athens 2004), pp. 187-204.
13. The main skylight is often different from the side ones in size and design. See Μπούρας, Χ. (ed.), Εκκλησίες στην Ελλάδα μετά την Άλωση, Ι-VI, σποράδην; Μουτσόπουλος, Ν., Εκκλησίες του νομού Φλώρινας (Thessaloniki 2003); Μουτσόπουλος, Ν., «Οι Εκκλησίες του νομού Πέλλης», ΙΜΧΑ, vol. 138 (Thessaloniki 1973). Also see Αρώνη, Α. – Θεοχαρίδου, Κ. – Μπελίτσος, Θ. – Σηφουνάκης, Ν. – Χρυσάφη, Μ., Ναοί και Εξωκκλήσια της Λήμνου (Athens 1999).
14. Lime-casts are also found in the churches of Limnos.
15. Church-building on the islands of the north-eastern Aegean Sea includes cross-vaults in the roofs of the side naves (churches in Chios, Lesvos and Limnos), while on Imbros the constantinopolitan influences are even more apparent.