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Photo of Kariye Museum

This page, describes a half-day tour through maybe the most pittoresque neighbourhoods of ancient Stanbul. We start our visit at the Edirne Gate (Edirne Kapı) which can easily be reached with Istanbul's excellent public transport. The T1 Kabataş-Bağcılar tram line, direction Bağcılar, can be caught at Sirkeci or along the Divan Yolu. The more than 20 minute drive along the Divan Yolu gives a good impression about the size of Byzantine Constantinople, which at its height reached a population of 800,000 people. We leave the train at Top Kapı (the Cannon Gate, not the palace). Here we can choose to either transfer to the T4 line direction Mescid-i Selam and leave at Edirne Kapı or to take a stroll along the Theodosian land walls that once protected the city of Constantinople against its enemies.

The massive defense walls that were built in the 5th century AD were breached only twice by hostile forces. The first time during the 4th Crusade, the second time by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453. The famed Orban cannon of Mehmet the Conqueror was trained on this part of the walls, hence their ruinous state. At this moment the gates and walls are under restoration.

Near Edirne Kapı, there is the Tekfur Sarayı, the remains of the palace of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenetus, that dates from the 14th Century AD. This is the only remaining of the many Byzantine palaces that made up the complex of Blachernae and for which Constantinople was once envied so much. This particular building became a celebrated pottery under Sultan Ahmet III and this saved it from complete destruction.

A bit further, just across the main road, the Fevzi Paşa Caddesi, stands the magnıfıcent Mihrimah Camii. The Mihrimah Camii dominates the highest of the seven hills of Istanbul and can be seen in all directions. This mosque was built by the famous architect Mimar Sinan for Princess Mihrimah, the favourite daughter of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent and the wife of Rüstem Paşa. It is considered as one of the best architectual masterpieces of Mimar Sinan. Unfortunately, the mosque has been heavily damaged by earthquakes and has now been closed for several years due to reconstruction works.

Here are some photos of the Theodosian city walls and the Tekfur Saray, click on the thumbnails to see greater pictures.

We cross the Fevzi Paşa Caddesi again, where there are some small streets leading to the Kariye Müzesi (also known as Kariye Camii) or Church of St. Saviour in Chora , or in short just Chora Church. This church was originally part of a monastery that was outside the walls built by Constantine the Great. Hence, its original name in Chora means in the country. When it became included in the Theodosian walls the name remained, but it was now given a symbolic sense. The original ancient church was replaced by the present building in the 11th century by Maria Doukaina, mother of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Commenus. The church was converted into a mosque by Atık Ali Paşa, the Grand Vizier of Sultan Bayezid II (1481-1512). The frescoes were then covered behind a layer of plaster. After World War II, the building was repaired and restored and opened to the public as a museum in 1958. The mosaics and frescoes of the Chora Church date from the beginning of the 14th century and are among the best and beautiful Byzantine paintings the world. More details of the history of the church can be found on the web-site of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Here are the photos of the Chora Church, click on the thumbnails to see greater pictures.

The tour now continues through the districts of Fatih and Fener. It is an easy walk descending down the 6th hill of Istanbul to the Golden Horn (Halıç or Estuary ın Turkısh), passing the Fethiye Camii, which most of the time is closed. The population of these districts has always been a mix of moslims, Greek orthodox, jews, and even latins. Today, the majority is most moslim with a significant minority of alevites that originate from the Black Sea. The most prominent building in Fener, the old Greek quarter, is definitely the Greek School in Turkish Rum Lisesi, but is commonly known as Kırmızı Mektep (Red School). The building dates from 1881.

Having arrived down at the Golden Horn or Halic in Turkish, we visit the church of St. Stephen of the Bulgars, which is a rare example of a neo-Gothic building in Turkey. The church was erected in 1871 and is exceptional for being constructed entirely from prefabricated cast-iron sections, cast in Vienna and brought to Istanbul by barge down the Danube. It was built for Istanbul's Bulgarian community and was the seat of the exarch of the Bulgarians. The church is still in use today by Macedonian Christians. If you're lucky, you can find the key keeper who will let you in.

A couple of hundred meters back from St. Stephen, there is the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople, a remnant of the glory, civilization and culture of Byzantium. Since 1601 this is the seat of the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch. Inside the compound is the Church of St. George which dates from 1720.

Here are the photos of the Fener, St. Stephen of the Bulgars and the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate, click on the thumbnails to see greater pictures.

We conclude our visit to Fener with lunch and refreshments at the Fener Köşkü restaurant, which in season serves very tasteful hamsi (anchovis). The rest of the afternoon can be spend by visiting the mosque at Eyüp Sultan, the holiest place in Istanbul.

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