Byzantian Monuments & Empresses

Imperial women who had considerable resources and powerful patronage…

Their own courts of women, eunuchs and ministers who wielded an enormous amount of influence, such as total government control and the power to issue coinage and decrees…

Their shadows are still visible at  the back streets of Istanbul which was the Byzantine Empire’s capital until 1453.

Hagia Sophia

A former Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica (church), later an imperial mosque, and now a museum. From the date of its construction in 537 until 1453, it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931. It was then secularized and opened as a museum on 1 February 1935. The building contains world-wide known impressive mosaics including Emperor Alexander’s and Empress Zoe’s.

Zeyrek Mosque (formerly Church of Christ Pantokrator)

It represents the most typical example of architecture of the Byzantine middle period in Constantinople and is, after Hagia Sophia, the second largest religious edifice built by the Byzantines in Istanbul. According to some souces, Irene of Athens, the well-known Byzantine empress regnant from 797 to 802, is also burried here.

Church of St. Mary of the Mongols

This Eastern Orthodox church is the only Byzantine church of Constantinople that has never been converted to a mosque and is still active. The rose-red building was founded by Princess Maria Palaiologina, the illegitimate daughter of Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos, in 1282.  She also spent the last years of her life here, as a nun.

Church of St. George

Also known as the “Patriarchal Church of the Great Myrrh”, it is the principal Greek Orthodox cathedral still in use in Istanbul. Since about 1600, it has been the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, the senior patriarchate of the Greek Orthodox Church and recognised as the spiritual leader of the world’s Eastern Orthodox Christians. It is visited by many Orthodox pilgrims every year.

Lunch Break at Fener-Balat District

The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora

Today, the Chora Museum is considered to be one of the most beautiful surviving examples of a Byzantine church. In the 16th century, during the Ottoman era, the church was converted into a mosque and, finally, it became a museum in 1948. It is not as large as some of the other surviving Byzantine churches of Istanbul (it covers 742.5 m²) but it is an unicum among them, because of its almost completely still extant internal decoration: The interior of the building is covered with fine mosaics and frescoes, including a famous one of Mary of the Mongols.

Pammakaristos Church

In 1591, the Church was converted into a mosque and it is known as Fethiye Mosque (“mosque of the conquest”). Today partly a museum, the building is one of the most famous Byzantine churches. Besides being an important example of Constantinople’s Palaiologan architecture, it has a large amount of Byzantine mosaics. A parekklesion (a side chapel) was added to the south side of the church in the early Palaiologan period, and a small shrine was erected by Martha Glabas shortly after the year 1310. An elegant dedicatory inscription to Christ, written by the poet Manuel Philes, runs along the parekklesion, both outside and inside it.

City Walls

The Walls of Constantinople are a series of defensive stone walls that have surrounded and protected the city of Constantinople (today Istanbul) since its founding. With numerous additions and modifications during their history, they were the last great fortification system of antiquity, and one of the most complex and elaborate systems ever built. Initially built by Constantine the Great, the walls surrounded the new city on all sides, protecting it against attack from both sea and land. As the city grew, the famous double line of the Theodosian Walls was built in the 5th century. 

On Mondays, when Hagia Sophia is closed and on Wednesdays, when the Chora Museum is closed, a visit to Little Hagia Sophia, formerly the Church of the Saints Sergius and Bacchus, will be added to the itiniary.

Little Hagia Sophia

This Byzantine building with a central dome plan was erected in the sixth century by Justinian, likely was a model for Hagia Sophia (St. Sophia), and is one of the most important early Byzantine buildings in Istanbul. It was recognized at the time as an adornment to the entire city, and a modern historian of the East Roman Empire has written that the church, “by the originality of its architecture and the sumptuousness of its carved decoration, ranks in Constantinople second only to St. Sophia itself”

Please note that most of these places are not on the routes of regular Istanbul city tours. Therefore, a few of these sights may not be available for inside visits depending on the season, day and the time.

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