Churches and Mosques in Istanbul, Turkey: The most important religious buildings

Active churches and temples in Istanbul: description, photos, where are

My husband Dmitry and I have been living in Antalya for over 9 years. I hope these articles and our travel experiences will be helpful. The information is updated regularly. So feel free to ask questions in the comments and on the telegram channel.

Last updated article 26.11.2019

Agree, not every tourist coming to a Muslim country sets out to see churches. I do not deny the fact that there are such people, and churches in Istanbul are worthy of attention: Greek, Armenian, Italian, Bulgarian and even Russian gathered in the list below.

Churches of Istanbul – the spiritual side of a multifaceted city

Until the 15th century, Constantinople (or Tsargrad) was the capital of Byzantium. After the Seljuk Turks led by Sultan Mehmet Fatih came to those places, the last Christian shrine in the East passed into the hands of the Muslims. This happened in 1453. The leader of the Turks, nicknamed “The Conqueror” for his exploit, renamed Constantinople into Istanbul, making the city the capital of the Ottoman Empire.

Most of the Orthodox cathedrals became Muslim mosques. And the few remaining churches in Istanbul are now a reminder of the Christian past of the former Turkish capital.

The Byzantine cathedrals that were turned into Muslim religious buildings are now actively used by adherents of Islam.

The mosques stand out:

  • Mustafa Pasha (formerly St. Andrew’s Temple in Kris;)
  • Sanjaktar Hayrettin (former monastery of Hastriya);
  • Kefeli Jamli (St. Nicholas Cathedral);
  • Kalenjerkhane (temple of Our Lady of Kiliotissa);
  • Fenari Isa (Lipsa Monastery near the Church of St. John the Baptist).

In Istanbul, there are springs preserved from antiquity. Archeologists attribute their presence to aquifers under the city. These places are considered historic monuments. There are some that are still in use, but others have long been abandoned.

In the past the inhabitants of Tsargrad considered the springs to be magic and believed in their life-giving power. In modern Istanbul two of these sanctuaries stand out.

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Every year a procession of the cross is held there.

Current Churches in Istanbul

Most of the Orthodox religious buildings located in Turkey’s largest metropolis have survived to this day. Some of them are still in operation today, fulfilling their direct “function”.

Church of the Holy Trinity (Aya Triada Rum Ortodoks Kilisesi)

Holy Trinity Church (Aya Triada Rum Ortodoks Kilisesi).

The building is located near Taksim, in the Beyoglu district. The modern building was erected in 1880 on the site of the ancient Byzantine church of St. George.

The main detail of the building is the two bell towers on the facade. Because of the riots that occurred in the city in the mid-20th century, the church was severely damaged, but completely recovered by 2003, it is now considered the largest functioning Orthodox Church.

St. George’s Cathedral (Aya Yorgi Patrikhane Kilisesi)

Saint George's Cathedral (Aya Yorgi Patrikhane Kilisesi)

The religious structure, also known as the Patriarchal Church of St. George, is located in the Fener district. The main shrine of the cathedral, along with numerous icons, is a part of the Jerusalem Column. According to tradition, Jesus Christ was chained to it during His scourging.

The religious building named in honor of the Great Martyr George the Victorious has served as the residence of the Ecumenical Patriarch since the early 17th century.

Church of Mary of Mongolia (Meryem Ana Rum Ortodoks Kilisesi)

Maria of Mongolia Church (Meryem Ana Rum Ortodoks Kilisesi)

The only Orthodox shrine preserved in its original form since the Byzantine Empire. It is located in the Fener district, on a hill near the Golden Horn Bay.

There has never been a Muslim service in the temple. There is even a written order of Sultan Mehmet II permitting the conduct of liturgies in Greek. The interior of the building is decorated with icons. Services are held twice a year, on Assumption (August 15) and on Holy Week (Tuesday).

Bulgarian Church of St. Stephen (Bulgar Kilisesi)

St. Stephen's Church in Bulgaria (Bulgar Kilisesi)

Located on the shores of Golden Horn Bay, the church is owned by the Bulgarian community of Istanbul. Named after the martyr Stefan, the Orthodox shrine is made of cast iron. The interior decoration, including the iconostasis, was made by Russian craftsmen. Liturgies are conducted in Bulgarian.

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Temple of Life-bearing Spring (Balıklı Meryem Ama Rum Manastirı)

Church of the Life-Giving Spring (Balıklı Meryem Ama Rum Manastirı)

The building was constructed in the 5th-6th centuries AD. It was destroyed in the 15th century but was rebuilt in 1835.

The place is known as the Church:

  • Keys;
  • The Virgin Mary;
  • The Holy Spring;
  • The Fulfillment of Wishes.

The territory of this magical place is always crowded. People who come here believe in the possibility of a quick recovery and the fulfillment of hopes. Hundreds of thousands of people come here from different continents to make their wishes come true. In this church there is an unusual ritual: immediately, on the right side at the entrance, you have to choose your key and talisman (the prices are symbolic). Take them with you, keep them, and never stop believing in the impossible.

The key and the talisman

Only there is a condition: when the wishes come true-necessary to come and return your talisman to the church. Wherever you are, no matter how far away you are-return it.

Museum Churches in Istanbul

Some shrines of the Orthodox religion left over from Byzantine times are no longer used for their intended purpose. The institutions have been turned into museums, open to the public and available for guided tours.

Aya Sofia Mosque

Aya Sofia Mosque (Aya Sofia Cami).

The grandiose Orthodox shrine of Constantinople – Hagia Sophia Cathedral – became the main mosque in Istanbul after the conquest of Constantinople. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the religious institution acquired the status of a museum. It happened in 1935.

The temple was built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian in the 530s. Before the construction of the Roman St. Peter’s Cathedral, the Constantinople building was considered the largest Christian temple. The dome of St. Sophia Cathedral is 31 meters in diameter. The height of the building is 55 meters 60 centimeters.

The sight is open for visits from 9 to 19 hours in the summer. In winter the working hours are 9 am – 5 pm. The ticket costs 60 lire. Children under the age of eight enter the museum for free.

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Church of St. Irene (Aya İrina)

Saint Irene Church

The shrine was founded in the 4th century. It was built under the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great, the first ruler of Byzantium. Tradition has it that the remains of the founder were placed in a sarcophagus in the temple.

The Ayia Irene itself is now housed in the Topkapi Palace complex, which served as the residence of the sultans during the Ottoman Empire. At the beginning of the last century it became a museum. Over the past 40 years, music festivals have also been held there (once a year).

The church is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm. The day off is Tuesday.

Hora Monastery

Hora Monastery

Orthodox shrine, on the territory of which is located the Church of Christ the Savior in Pole. Since the mid-20th century (1948) this place has become a tourist attraction known as the Karie Museum. After the capture of Tsargrad in the 15th century, the icons in the Christian sanctuary were plastered over, and the institution itself became a mosque.

The revival of the Chora occurred only after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Those who want to visit the museum and get in touch with part of Byzantine history can do so daily, from 9:00 to 17:00.

Fethiye Cami (Fethiye Mosque)

Fethiye Mosque

The church of Our Lady of Pammakarista, converted to a Muslim shrine, is one of the largest Byzantine monuments in Istanbul. The main value of this cathedral is the numerous mosaics. There is a mosque still active in the main building. The southern part of the building has been converted into a museum.

Rules of Attendance

Orthodox cathedrals of the Turkish metropolis located on the banks of the Bosphorus are part of the cultural heritage of the city. A visit to these places is recommended to all travelers coming to Istanbul.

However, before planning your visit, you should pay attention to the requirements for visitors to religious institutions:

  1. It is best to turn off mobile devices when entering the building.
  2. Bright, garish outfits should be avoided. It is better to dress as modestly as possible.
  3. Even in hot weather it is not recommended to enter temples in overly open, dresses and tops designed for beach holidays.
  4. You can not talk loudly and noisily express their emotions.
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It is better to observe the rules for visiting temples not only when visiting active religious institutions. These requirements also apply to entering places that are now museums. Despite the fact that there are no strict church regulations, it is still advisable to dress and behave accordingly to the place and purpose of the visit.


Turkey’s largest metropolis boasts an abundance of historical monuments from the Christian era. Many of Istanbul’s surviving Orthodox churches are still in operation today. Some religious buildings have become museums that are open to tourists.

Ancient monuments of the Christian era have long occupied an honorable place among the city’s landmarks. Their visit will be a vivid memory for every tourist, regardless of religion.

Know any other beautiful churches, but didn’t find them in the list? Fill me in in the comments.

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