Visiting the churches in Istanbul helps to understand the richness but also the cultural complexity of Istanbul. Istanbul is not only a city of mosques. It is a city that has welcomed all monotheistic religions through the centuries and has many beautiful churches still in use.
The Saint Sophia
Originally built as a Christian Orthodox church and serving as such for centuries, the Hagia Sophia was transformed into a mosque by the Ottomans during their conquest of Constantinople in 1453. In 1934, it was declared a museum by Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
In July 2020, the museum became a mosque again. Carpets were installed on the floor and the relics were covered by religious convention. With its conversion into a Muslim place of worship, the entrance to the Hagia Sophia is now free. Avoid visits on Fridays between noon and 2pm.
Saint-Sauveur in Chora
Kariye Mosque, or the Holy Savior’s Mosque in Chora, is a former medieval Greek Orthodox church located in the Edirnekapı district. The neighborhood is located in the western part of the municipality of Fatih district.
Like the Hagia Sophia, St. Savior-in-Chora Church (Kariye in Turkish) was also converted back to a mosque in January 2021 and is now a Muslim place of worship.
It is currently not open to visitors because of work and for an indefinite period.
St. George's Cathedral in Fener
The Greek Patriarchate of Fener and the Patriarchal Church of St. George are located in the Fener district on the banks of the Golden Horn and share the same courtyard. The Patriarchate is still the mother church of Greek Orthodox Christianity worldwide. Since 1600, the church has been rebuilt several times, often due to fire, and little remains of its original structure.
While the exterior facade remains sober, the opulent interior impresses with marble and finely carved ornaments. The church has a rich collection of historical artifacts attracting thousands of pilgrims to Istanbul each year.
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Taksim
The Church of the Holy Trinity located near Taksim Square, attracts attention by its decorations and architecture built in 1880 by Vasilaki Ionnidi. The church has the distinction of being the largest Greek Orthodox church in Istanbul and offers an interesting view of the neo-classical influence, uncharacteristic of Byzantine Orthodox churches.
Built in a large garden and slightly overhanging the street, it has three entrances. The dome is decorated with Jesus Pantocrator and the twelve apostles interspersed with 12 windows. It is one of the most popular churches in Istanbul.
- The church is used daily by a small community. Usually only the narthex is open to visitors, where they can light a candle and see some of the icons.
- To get there, go to Taksim Square, and you will see it on the left as you look towards Istiklal Avenue.
Saint Irene Church (near Saint Sophia)
Dating from the 4th century, St. Irene, the ancient church dedicated to the “Holy Peace”. Made of stone and brick, St. Irene is the first church of the Byzantine Empire in Istanbul. It is also the largest after Hagia Sophia.
The upper structure of St. Irene’s was completely renovated during the restorations of the Byzantine period to have its present appearance as a domed church with a basilica plan. The high quality acoustics make St. Irene’s an ideal place for musical performances.
St. Anthony of Padua Church in Beyoglu
Located on Istiklal Street in Beyoğlu, St. Anthony’s Church is the largest and most visited Catholic church in Istanbul, built in the Ottoman era in 1725. The height of the Gothic architecture, whose current state dates from 1906, is 23 meters. Masses in Turkish are held here every Tuesday.
Once inside the church you will see various works of art, including a wooden statue of St. Anthony and two beautiful mosaics, one of which shows the baptism.
St. Peter and St. Paul Church in Galata
The Church of St. Peter and St. Paul is located 150 meters from the Galata Tower. The important Roman Catholic church of Istanbul is characterized by the copper icon of Hodegetria, one of the protective emblems of Constantinople.
The present church was built between 1841 and 1843 by the Swiss and Italian architects Gaspare and Giuseppe Fossati. It is in the form of a basilica. The dome is painted blue and dotted with golden stars. The back wall is integrated in the old Genoese walls. Due to its excellent acoustics, concerts are sometimes held here. It is one of the most popular churches in Istanbul.