Throughout its history Istanbul has been home to a number of civilisations and it has housed millions of people of all religions and faiths. The city has some of the most impressive mosques in the world with their large domes and resilient minarets. The city is also home to a sizeable jewish community and has a rich jewish heritage. Christianity on the other hand, has been present in the city of Istanbul for many centuries. Perhaps the greatest testimony to this history is the mighty Hagia Sophia, a museum which was in Byzantine times, the world’s largest cathedral. After having been used as a mosque for over 400 years under Ottoman rule, the Hagia Sophia today is a unique site with a blend of both islamic and christian elements.

Although the famous Hagia Sophia is nowadays a museum, there are still well over 100 churches spread out all over Istanbul’s many districts. These churches belong to various different communities and sects, among which the majority belong to the Armenian or Greek communities. There are others that are owned and frequented by Latin Catholic, Assyrian and Turkish Orthodox communities among plenty of others. As a result of the diversity amongst the christian population, no two churches in the city look quite the same and below is a list of just a few of the churches spread throughout the city.

1.  Santa Maria Draperis – This small catholic church is one of the most famous churches in Istanbul owing to its location on the city’s most bustling and cosmopolitan street – İstiklal Avenue. It dates back to the 16th century, making it one of the oldest catholic churches in the city. The small house of prayer which was can be accessed via a steep flight of stairs is frequented by Latin catholics.

2. Hagia Triada – Located on a side street off Istiklal Avenue and seen easily from the famous Taksim Square, this beautiful church is my personal favourite in the city. Up until the Tanzimat reforms that took place in the Ottoman Empire in 1839, structures other than mosques were forbidden from having domes. The Hagia Triada church, which was completed in 1880, was the very first Ottoman-era church to be built with a dome. This majestic basilica belongs to the Greek Orthodox community and is their largest church in the city. The interior is deeply captivating and with various orthodox icons and seraphs included in the decor.

 

3. Surp Asdvadzadzin –  This church owes its importance to its status as the seat of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople. It is located in the Kumkapı district of Istanbul which is famous for having retained its multicultural character to a large extent. The Kumkapı district is often described as a taste of Istanbul from the past, with its large minority populations, including many Armenians. It certainly does feel like a different world to the rest of modern-day Turkey. It is rather refreshing for visitors to the district who will be shown a different image of the country. You can even hear Armenian on the street whilst strolling around in this neighbourhood. The church of Surp Asdvadzadzin has been the Armenian community’s main cathedral since 1641 and is used for special events as well as regular services.

4. St. George  – Despite being the headquarters of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the most important church for the Greek Orthodox community of Istanbul, the cathedral of st. George which is located in the historic Fener district, by the Golden Horn has a very modest exterior. The interior however, is quite the opposite as it is decorated lavishly with many chandeliers, a golden iconostasis and historic ornaments. Many pilgrims from Orthodox countries visit this cathedral due to it being the centre of Eastern Orthodoxy as well as for its historic relics, such as its patriarchal throne which is thought to date back to the 5th century.

5. Üç Horan – In spite of its prime loacation on a side street off the busy Istiklal Avenue, this Armenian church of the 3 Altars is less known because it can only be found when looked for. Tucked away behind some buildings, this church is very close to the famous ‘Flower Passage’ and is located just by the local fish market. It is favoured by the Armenian community for special events such as weddings and baptisms because of its acoustics. The inside is beautifully decorated with chandeliers and imagery of saints.

6. Saint Antony of Padua – This is perhaps the most iconic church in Turkey. A trip to Istanbul is never complete without a visit to the largest church in the city. The magnificent church of Saint Anthony of Padua is located mid way along the Istiklal Avenue and is one of the most famous buildings in the entire district of Beyoglu. This basilica was built in the venetian style by the Italian community of Istanbul on the site of a former church in the early 1900s and has been in continuous use ever since. Before becoming pope, John XXIII – who is often referred to by Turks as ”The Turkish Pope” – served in this church for over 10 years and as a result, a statue of him can be seen in the courtyard in front of the church.

7. Surp Tateos – This small Armenian church located in Yenikapı is one of the city’s lesser known churches. The church of Surp Tateos is a humble edifice that was built in 1846 and serves the Armenian Apostolic community in the area.

 

 

Published by Kenan Cruz Cilli