With its multicultural and unique history, İstanbul was a bridge between many cultures with multireligious societies. The civilizations that had been in İstanbul left an important part of their cultures: sacred places.
The Christian community living in Istanbul from the fourth century has a significant reason to visit Istanbul every year, which is the churches.
We all must hear about the Hagia Eirene and the Havariyyun as the first Christian Churches in İstanbul but what about others?
I have made a list to categorize them according to their roots: Armenian Apostolic churches in İstanbul, Byzantine church buildings in İstanbul, Bulgarian Orthodox churches in İstanbul, Roman Catholic Churches, and Greek Orthodox churches in İstanbul
Here are the 5 most categories to make your mind clear which one you should go in your first İstanbul visit:
Armenian Apostolic Churches in Istanbul
Armenian Patriarchate (Church of Surp Asdvadzadzin)
The Armenian Patriarchate located in Kumkapi established over 500 years ago.
The head of one of the largest Christian groups in Turkey is housed in the Church of Surp Asdvadzadzin in Kumkapı, with a three-storied structure in the immediate vicinity of the cathedral and two churches.
Back in the 1950s, when the Soorp Khatch Seminary was established for the preparation of the clergy, it was converted into a regular school without any remarkable reason.
However, today candidates for the priesthood receive tutorial education on the premises of the patriarchate, and this structure extends its jurisdiction mainly over Istanbul and its suburbs where Armenians still live and constitute the largest Christian minority in Turkey.
Adress: İlhan Sok. No: 28 34353 Beşiktaş, İstanbul
Surp Krikor Lusavoric Armenian Church
The Surp Krikor Lusavoric Armenian Orthodox Church is located near the coast of Eminonu, in Karakoy the stress of Meclisi Mebusan, as the oldest Armenian church of İstanbul.
Although the original building ( built in 1431) was destroyed by fire in the eighteenth century and later demolished by road construction, today’s one was rebuilt in 1966 by the Armenian architect Bedros Zobyan. That means it is one of the churches which was built during the Turkish Republic period.
Although the original one was built in 1431, according to a manuscript, there was a church there known as Surp Sarkis in 1360.
What makes this church historically significant is the fact that It is the oldest Armenian Church in Istanbul that was built by the architect Bedros Zabyan. It has very elegant domes and the bell tower, which not every church in Istanbul has the same kind of.
Adress: Hacımimi Mahallesi, Kemeraltı Cd. No:40, 34425 Beyoğlu/İstanbul
Sakızağacı Surp Asdvadzadzin Church
This church is built in 1866, located in Besiktas. Ornamented columns were devoted to the Virgin Mary together with the altars of the church.
Adress: Zeytinlik Mahallesi, Ömer Naci Sk. No:15, 34140 Bakırköy/İstanbul
Byzantine Church Buildings in Istanbul
Surp Vortvots Vorodman Church
Known also like Children of the Lightning, The Surp Vortvots Vorodman Church was first mentioned in the Travel Accounts of Simeon of Poland. He (Greek for ‘sacred spring’) in the church’s cistern proves that it used to be a Byzantine church, which is located in Kumkapi.
Address: Muhsine Hatun Mahallesi, No:, Sevgi Sk. No:7, 34130 Fatih/İstanbul
The Church of St. Mary of the Mongols
The church took its name after the Byzantine Princess Maria Palaiologina is located in Balat. It is famous for that it is only Byzantine-era church that was not converted into a mosque by decree by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror.
Address: Balat Mahallesi, Tevkii Cafer Mektebi Sk. No:1, 34087 Fatih/İstanbul
Tel: (0212) 521 71 39
Bulgarian Orthodox Churches in İstanbul
The Bulgarian Church
It is also known as the Aya Istefanos Church. The purpose of this church was to prepare a prayer place for the Bulgarian minority that left the Fener Greek Patriarchate.
That is why having belonged to the Bulgarian minority, The Bulgarian Church is the most interesting church in Istanbul. The purpose of this church was about Ottoman times.
The Bulgarian minority of the Ottoman Empire used to pray at the churches of the Fener Orthodox Patriarchy. After that, Bulgarians were allowed to build their own church in the 19th century as a consequence of the nationalistic movements.
To begin with, it was not that large, but a small wooden church located on the shore of the Golden Horn between Balat and Fener in Eyup district. In fact, there are many churches in this area even today.
Yet, after that they built a new building with an iron frame was preferred to concrete reinforcement because of the weak ground conditions, which planned by Hovsep Aznavur, an Armenian of Istanbul origin.
It was completed in 1898 after many processes, with its main skeleton of the church was made of steel and covered by metal boards. All the pieces were attached together with nuts, bolts, rivets or welding, coming from the Neo-Gothic and Neo-Baroque periods architecture style.
Address: Balat Mahallesi, Mürselpaşa Cd. No:10, 34087 Fatih/İstanbul
The Church of St. Stephen
The Bulgarian Church of St. Stephen, that is also knowns as Iron Church, in Balat just opened in January 201. It was waiting for the restoration after a seven-year closure.
The original building was completed in 1898, made of prefabricated iron cast elements shipped from Austria.
Adress: Balat Mahallesi, Mürselpaşa Cd. No:10, 34087 Fatih/İstanbul
Greek Orthodox Churches in Istanbul
Church of St. George (Aya Yorgi)
This church is still in use today as the main Greek Orthodox cathedral. In 1836, Church of St. George was a part of the Greek Patriarchate, a compound of buildings nestled behind the historic sea walls fronting the Golden Horn.
There are some artifacts that include Byzantine mosaics, religious relics, and a wood and inlay patriarchal throne. There is also some enchanted carved wooden iconostasis.
When you visit and enter inside, you will see the patriarchal throne is in the middle of the nave. It is made of walnut and ivory, mother of pearl and colored wood.
There are also some treasures such as the 11th-century mosaic icon that is on the south wall to the right of the iconostasis. That means the Virgin Mary holding and pointing to the Christ Child that was actually originally created for the Byzantine church of Pammakaristos. It is now in the Fethiye Museum.
After Ottoman Empires and the rise of modern Turkish nationalism, the Patriarch was abandoned by most of the Greek Orthodox population of Istanbul who has emigrated.
However, it is still seen as a symbolic center of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is supported financially by donations from the Orthodox communities in other countries.
If you are interested and planning to visit, the Church of St. George (Aya Yorgi) is open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Address: Büyükada-nizam Mahallesi, Cennet Yolu, 34970 Adalar/İstanbul
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
This structure, located in the Fener near Eyup district, is seen as the highest see and holiest center of the Orthodox Christian Church. You can find this church in Fatih between Sadrazam Ali Pasa Street and İncebel Street.
This Patriarchate is located in the yard of this church. Back in 1602, we can see the Patriarch in Aya Yorgi because it moved there when the site was used as a monastery.
However, because of some renovations and the fire in 1991, many structures were hardly damaged.
Despite everything, there are still important ones there, and they can be listed as a patriarchs throne from circa 5th century, three samples of rare mosaic icons, a column which is believed to have been used for the binding and flogging of Jesus in Jerusalem, and cascades belonging to three women saints.
Adress: Yavuz Sultan Selim Mahallesi, Dr. Sadık Ahmet Cd. No:44, 34083 Fatih/İstanbul
The Church of St. Savior
It is one of the Byzantine Greek Orthodox Church in İstanbul, built as a part of a monastery that was constructed outside the walls of the city of Constantinople.
When it comes to the times of the Ottoman Empire, it was converted into a mosque and later became a museum in the 20th century.
The Church of St.Savior is famous for its old mosaics and frescoes and the museum is today, and it has many visitors from the local people in İstanbul and seasonal tourists.
Address: Dervişali Mahallesi, Kariye Cami Sk. No:8, 34087 Fatih/İstanbul
The Cathedral of St. George
The principal Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St. George is visited by pilgrims year round because of many reasons. Despite the modest exterior, the inside of this church has so rich decorations in terms of traditional Orthodox style.
The Cathedral of St.George is located within the complex of Ecumenical Patriarchate in Fener.
Address: Yavuz Sultan Selim Mahallesi, Dr. Sadık Ahmet Cd. No:44, 34083 Fatih/İstanbul
Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church
The largest Greek Orthodox church in İstanbul is the one named Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church, built in 1880. The building of the church is located in the Beyoglu district near Taksim Square.
It is designed by the Ottoman Greek architect Kampanaki in neo-Baroque style. What makes this church attractive to visitors is to have a distinctive dome and twin bell towers.
It is known as the largest Greek Orthodox Church in Istanbul. There are many visitors every day here to see the architectural marvels of the city.
Address: Katip Çelebi Mah., 34433 Beyoğlu/İstanbul
Roman Catholic Churches in Istanbul
St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church (The Saint Antoine Church)
Known as Sant’Antonio di Padova Church, St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church is located on Istiklal Street, Beyoglu.
You can see its building when walking through Istiklal Street on the left side of the street if you are facing from Galatasaray towards Tünel is run by Italian Catholic priests.
This church was built between 1906 and 1912 with the effects of an Italian Neo-Gothic-style church.
It is the largest and most important of the Roman Catholic churches in Istanbul, so it has the largest community attending its masses.
When it comes to the architectural design, you can see the red brick exterior and phenomenal inside, which is very breathtaking.
Furthermore, there is a story about this church, St. Anthony of Padua Church. According to this story, this church was built in 1725 by the local Italian community of İstanbul. However, because it was later demolished, it was replaced with the current building in the same place.
The building we see today was designed by the Levantine architect Giulio Mongeri. He is also famous for designing Maçka Palas, that is a hotel that also houses stores and cafes such as Gucci and Armani Cafe in Nişantaşı. He was also the architect of the Neo-Byzantine-style Karaköy Palas bank building in Karaköy.
Address: İstiklal Caddesi No:171, 34433 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
GPS coordinates: 41° 1′ 55.9740” N, 28° 58′ 36.7932” E
Tel: +90 212 244 0935
Other Churches in Istanbul
Virgin Mary Suryani Church
Virgin Mary Suryani Church was built in Taksim, Beyoglu district in 1960. When building this church, the stones brought from Mardin. Needles of say, Mardin is famous for the Suryanis population, and the head church of Suryanis is located in Mardin.
It is the only church which was built by Suryanis in Istanbul. This was used to use generally rent or borrow from the other denominations, but there are some other sections in the church like school and an administration office, which is the common way the Assyrian generally use churches.
Adress: Çukur Mahallesi, Karakurum Sk. No:20, 34435 Beyoğlu/İstanbul
Tel: (0212) 238 54 70
Anglican Church (Crimean Memorial Church )
It is knowns as Crimean Memorial Church, which was built behind the Swedish Consulate in Taksim, Beyoglu district.
This church was donated by Sultan Abdulmecit, between 1858-68 by the British architect G.E. Street in memory of British soldiers who had participated in the Crimean War.
The stones used in construction were brought from Malta, with Neo-Gothic architecture.
Although it was closed in 1978 for some reasons like the lack of a congregation, it was re-opened in 1991 and now it is ready for your visitation.
Adress: Hacımimi Mahallesi, 34425 Beyoğlu/İstanbul
The churches in İstanbul are not limited to those listed above. There are some mall churches such as St. Maria Draperis Church, Latin Italian Church, St Peter and Paul Church, Armenian – Catholic Surp Yerrortutyon Church, Aya Triada Church, Aya Andrea Orthodox Church, St. Esprit Cathedral, St. Louis Church, Terre-Sainte Spanish Church, English Embassy’s Church, German Protestant Church, Union Protestant Church, and 7th Day Adventist Church around Taksim and Galata.
Along the Bosphorus, we can find many small churches, especially near Bebek. There are Rum Orthodox Ayios Haralambos Church, Ortakoy Rum Orthodox Ayios Fokas Church, Bahariye Surp Levon Church, and Kuzguncuk Rum Orthodox Ayios Panteleimon Church.
Apart from all, there are also some churches in Yesilkoy like Saint Stephanos Church, Bakirkoy district and Princess Islands.
Saint Etienne Latin Catholic Church
The Saint Etienne Latin Catholic Church is located on Cümbüş Street in the Yeşilköy neighborhood. The importance of this church is that it was designed by a Catholic Greek architect who is knowns as Pietro Vitalis.
Although the construction of this church was started in 1865, officially opened to visitors in 1886 with the head of the Friars Minor Capuchin.
Because of the earthquake happened in 1894 the dome of the church was destroyed so badly. After that, the Austrian masters made a wooden ceiling with the materials that they brought from their home country.
Today, the Saint Etienne Latin Catholic Church has a tower with four bells that are three statues in front of the church that were brought from France.
Adress: Yeşilköy Mahallesi, Cümbüş Sk. No:8, 34149 Bakırköy/Istanbul
the Union Church of Istanbul
Being the oldest congregation of its type, the Union Chuch of İstanbul was established by members of the Congregational church, guided by William and Abigail Goodell when they arrived at Turkey on June 9, 1831.
After the next three years, they were together with some family members, which formed the nucleus of the Church.
In 1942 when the congregational contingent was strengthened by the arrival of Scottish families working in İstanbul, they provided a strong base of support for its continuing work for many years by joining church activities.
With this kind of beginning, today the Union Church of İstanbul became a warm and friendly place where people come for worshiping God as being one of the oldest buildings in Istanbul.
Adress: İstiklal Mahallesi, İstiklal Caddesi/Postacılar Sokak, Beyoğlu/İstanbul
Tel: +90 212 244 5212
High Sophia Museum
When it comes to churches in İstanbul, it is inevitable to mention High Sofia Museum. Although it serves now as a museum, the history itself is a bit different.
Ayasofya (the Turkish name of Hagia Sophia) is located in Sultanahmet with its all impressive sights, which is one of the most turbulent histories of any museum in the world.
Let us analyze the history of High Sophia as three periods. The first one is from AD360 t0 1453. When it was built in AD 360, Emperor Justinian commissioned the building in the sixth century as a Greek Orthodox Church that would outdo the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem.
After five years and, almost 11,000 people to erect the structure that was the largest Christian church in the world for nearly a thousand years.
When it comes to 1204, the Crusaders displaced the Patriarch of Constantinople with a Latin bishop, which is why much of its original relics can now be found in St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.
After 1453, with the conquer of İstanbul by the Sultan Fatih Sultan Mehmet, the capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks resulted in some different practices.
By the Conqueror, it was declared that the High Sophia will be a mosque and he will pray there on Friday.
It was seen as one of the holiest Islamic temples of the world and served as Istanbul’s principal mosque for nearly 500 years.
Today in Istanbul, there are some mosques to take here as a model, and they can be listed as the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, the Suleymaniye Mosque, and the Rustem Pasha Mosque.
The last period is about the decision of the Council of Ministers under the order of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. In 1935, it was opened as a museum.
According to some statistics provided by the Turkish Ministry of Tourism, High Sophia Museum received more than 3 million visitors in 2013.
If you are willing to see this beauty witnessed many historical events, you can find it just in the heart of Sultanahmet. I am sure you will see the long queue there.
The distance between Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque is only two minutes walk, but the Basilica Cistern and Topkapi Palace are also so close after reaching Hagia Sophia.
Its opening hours are Monday – Sunday from 9am – 7pm.
Some Synagogues in Istanbul
With its estimated numbers 26,000 according to the Jewish Virtual Library, Jewish Community has the vast majority live in İstanbul.
For example, there is a community of about 2,500 in İzmir and other smaller groups located in the rest of Turkey.
Sephardic Jews make up approximately 96% of Turkey’s Jewish population, while the rest are primarily Ashkenazic.
For those who are interested in other religious structures such as synagogues, here are some of the examples of synagogues in Istanbul:
The Ashkenazi Synagogue
The Ashkenazi Synagogue is located near the Galata Tower, and active to visits and prayers. Founded by Ashkenazim of Austrian origin in 1900, it is the last remaining synagogue among a total of three built by Ashkenazim.
Adress: Yüksek Kaldırım Cad. No: 27 34200 Istanbul Turkey
Tel: +90 212 2436909
The Neve Shalom Synagogue
The Neve Shalom Synagogue was built in 1951 and opened in the same year. Unfortunately, a terrorist attack happened in 1986 although it is the largest synagogue in Istanbul where most of the religious ceremonies are held.
If you want to visit, there is open to the public for morning visits during the weekdays and for Shabbat prayers every Saturday morning.
Address: Büyük Hendek Cad. No: 61 34200 Istanbul/Turkey
Tel: +90 212 2937566
Etz Ahayim Synagogue
Etz Ahayim Synagogue is located in Ortakoy, near the European leg of the Bosphorus Bridge. The synagogue you see today is the new one that was built on the location of the then Midrash after the previous synagogue burned down in 1941
Visits can be made with previous appointments and both weekday.
Address: Muallim Naci Cad. No: 6 34200 Ortaköy, Beşiktaş Istanbul Turkey
Tel: +90 212 2601896