Laleli, Fatih - Istanbul - Turkey
GPS : 41°00'30.5"N 28°57'19.7"E / 41.008472, 28.955472
Myrelaion Monastery is one of those Christian churches converted into mosques. Every time I visit such places I feel my heart in anguish, but I also sense some uncertainty, because you never know in what degree the initial building suffered alterations. The name of the current mosque is Bodrum Camii. The beautiful monastery, with its distinctive architecture, typical to that Byzantine age: a smaller dome, which doesn’t touch directly the main structure - the two architectural elements being joined by a cylindrical tympanum.
The monastery endured much destruction and it was eventually abandoned after the fire of 1911, resting half-buried into the ground, beneath earth, rocks and rubbish. Archaeological excavations began in 1965, with the purpose of digging up the monastery. In 1986 the monastery was restored and in the next year it was reopened as a mosque, retaining this purpose until this day.
At first sight, the interior of the church looks like an ordinary mosque. Only the right-sided positioning of the mihrab indicates the Christian origin of the building. On a closer look, the trilobated sanctuary with its three independent domes becomes evident, and so does the cross formed by the four crossed arches which support the Byzantine dome. After such destruction and desolation, the place where once was the sanctuary treasures now only one preserved fresco.
The fresco depicts Empress Theodora kneeling with her arms open and praying to the Mother of God, Who has her right hand reaching towards the Empress and her left hand holding Christ the Savior. The outward niches girdling the church bestow harmony and elegance on its external appearance.
The Bodrum mosque was formerly the Church of the Monastery of Myrelaion. It is located in Laleli, a part of today’s İstanbul’s historical peninsula. The Myrelaion Church was built on a cross-square plan, by Emperor Romanos І Lecapenos as a family chapel when he converted his nearby palace to a monastery in 922. Romanos І Lecapenos was the son of an imperial guardsman of Armenian named Theophylaktos. Romanos did not take any refined education but he advanced through the ranks of army during the reign of the Emperor Leo VІ.
First he became the general of the naval and after served as admiral on the fleet. After becoming very influential, he started to have a close relationship with the underage Constantine VІІ and in 919 he married his daughter with him and became the “father of the emperor”. In 920, he became the co-emperor. He was in the power until 944 when he deposed by his sons. The monastery sits on the ruins of the 5th century rotunda and is also known as a female monastery (Nunnery). Emperor Romanos created a complex place which includes a monastery, church and a burial place.
The church also became a burial place for their family. Between 922 and 961, six members of the Lecapenos family were buried in the church. The church was damaged during the Crusades in 1203. After the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the church was converted into a mosque by Grand Vizier Mesih Paşa around 1500s. Nowadays this mosque is called "Bodrum Camii", bodrum means an enclosed area that is generally use for storage that is partially or completely underground however it is also known as "Mesih Paşa Camii" named after the Grand Vizier.
Romanos Lecapenos was an emperor during 920 to 944. As a matter of fact he was an uspurer to the throne; he wanted to build a palace for himself so he bought a late antique rotunda which was built in the 5th century. Both entrances of the rotunda were closed by walls. The inner side of the rotunda was supported by approximately eighty columns to hold the ceiling where the rotunda was transformed into a cistern.
The ceiling was divided into two parts; one half was constructed as a palace and a terrace, where the other half was being used as the courtyard. Lecapenos also wanted to build a family chapel next to his palace. Myrelaion church was built on the south-west of Rotunda which was attached to the palace. The church was a two storey building and it was located at the same level with the palace and the terrace. A same sized substructure was built beneath the church with the aim of this church being at the same level with the palace. Although the church and the substructures are not connected inside, they both carry their individual entrances outside.
The Myrelaion church was built on a cross-square plan which became popular after the basilica plan in the 9th century. The term "four-column church" is also applied to this kind. In this type of church, forms are massed in a pyramidal manner, the vaults cascading downward from the top. There was a dome in the center of the church which rises above a drum, whose windows around its base provide the light to focus on the center. The dome is supported by four columns that divide the interior space into nine units.
The narthex of the church has three bays which were separated by the arches. The central bay has a dome vault; however the other ones have cross-groined vaults.” “Three archways lead from the narthex into the nave. In the nave there is a central hall with four columns that carry the dome. The aisles lead into clover-shaped pastoforion or side rooms that are linked to the sanctuary in the middle.
The inner side of the church was also decorated by mosaics and marble revetments. In the crypt, where the Lecaponos’s family were buried has a fresco painting from the Palaogeloion Dynasty, still exists in the mosque. In the painting, there is a female figure kneeling and supplicating from a standing Mother of God. The exterior parts of the walls are semicircular buttresses and the eastern side of the church is dominated by the semi-hexagonal apses of the sanctuary and the side rooms. The whole church is made by bricks.
The church is used as a burial place for Lecapenos, his family and Romanos І. First his wife Theodora in 922 and after by order: his son Christopher in 931, Constantine’s (his son) wife
Helena in 940, his son Constantine in 946, Romanos І himself in 946 and Emperor Constantine VІІ’s wife Helena in 961. Romanos was the only emperor who was not buried in Havariun or the church of the Holy Apostles, because Romanos became emperor by making her daughter marry with Constantine VІІ and after eliminating Constantine VІІ.
Some years before 922, possibly during the wars against Simeon I's Bulgaria, the drungarius Romanos Lekapenos bought a house in the ninth region of Constantinople, not far from the Sea of Marmara, in the place called Myrelaion ("the place of myrrh" in Greek). After his accession to the throne this building became the nucleus of a new imperial palace, intended to challenge the neighbouring Great Palace of Constantinople, and the family shrine of the Lekapenos family.
The first person to be buried there was his wife Theodora, in December 922, followed by his eldest son and co-emperor Christophoros, who died in 931. By doing so, Romanos interrupted a six-century old tradition, whereby almost all the Byzantine emperors since Constantine I were buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles. Later the Emperor converted his palace into a nunnery and, after his deposition and death in exile as monk in the island of Prote in June 948, he too was buried in the church.
Romanos I desired for the privilege of being buried in the Havariun church also known as Holy Apostles, however, he was buried in the Myrelaion church as he was not considered from the royal blood. There are still surviving traces of the burials in the Archeology Museum in İstanbul. Furthermore, the palace of Romanos was used as a monastery, converted by Romanos II. Not only Romanos ІІ locked his sister to the monastery but also the wife and the daughter of the Komnenos І were locked to this monastery as a nun. That’s why the monastery was also known as a nunnery.
The whole complex was damaged because of the Crusades in 1203 by the fire incidents. In 1261, Michael ІХ was recaptured the Constantinople and started to restore Constantinople from its damages. Michael ІХ was one of the member of the Palaeologian Dynasty. Myrelaion church was also restored in the late 13th century, during the Palaeologian Dynasty in 1261. During these repairs, a burial chapel was added in the substructure of the building. The shrine was ravaged by fire in 1203, during the Fourth Crusade. Abandoned during the Latin occupation of Constantinople (1204-1261), the building was repaired at the end of the thirteenth century, during the period of the Palaiologan restoration.
After the conquest of the Ottoman Empire, the church was converted into a mosque by the Grand Vizier Mesih Ali Paşa, under the ruling of the Sultan ІІ Beyazıd. The mosque is also known as Bodrum Camii, named after the cistern beneath the monastery, coming from the word "Bodrum" in Turkish language. A fountain and faucets for ablution was constructed near the mosque. In 1782, so far the biggest fire in history of Istanbul damaged the mosque.
After the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the Myrelaion was converted into a mosque by Grand Vizier Mesih Paşa around the year 1500, during the reign of Sultan Bayezid II. The mosque was named after its substructure (the meaning of the Turkish word bodrum is "subterranean vault", "basement"), but was also known under the name of its founder. The edifice was damaged again by fires in 1784 and 1911, when it was abandoned.
Bodrum Mosque (Turkish: Bodrum Camii, or Mesih Paşa Camii named after its convert) in Istanbul, Turkey, is a former Eastern Orthodox church converted into a mosque by the Ottomans. The church was known under the Greek name of Myrelaion. The medieval structure, rather incongruously choked on three sides by modern blocks, stands in Istanbul, in the district of Fatih, in the neighbourhood of Laleli, one kilometre west of the ruins of the Great Palace of Constantinople.
However, the mosque was damaged most by the fire in 1911. The restoration of the mosque was on a long hold until 1986. At the moment, it is used as a mosque, Bodrum Camii. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to see any remaining of the monastery from the past. The cistern which is constructed by Romanos was used for water storage in the Byzantine period however now it is turned into a shopping mall.
In 1784 and 1911, the mosque was gravely damaged due to back fire incidents. However, after 1965 C.L.Striker came to İstanbul and cleaned its cellar and did a digging to find out something related with the monastery of Romanos. After 1986, it was completely restored by an institution and now it is used as a mosque.
You can still see the columns and the ceiling of the cistern. Now the "bodrum" of the mosque which was the burial chapel in the past is used for only Friday prayers. Today, the church is visited by many tourists where their feelings and memories from the church are kept in the "Visitors Book". Most tourists seem to appreciate the restoration that they can still have a chance to see the remaining of the church and its features from the past.
The building, whose masonry consists entirely of bricks, is built on a foundation structure made of alternated courses of bricks and stone, and has a cross-in-square (or quincunx) plan, with a nine meter long side. The central nave (naos) is surmounted by an umbrella dome, with a drum interrupted by arched windows, which gives to the structure an undulating rhythmus. The four side naves are covered by barrel vaults. The edifice has a narthex to the west and a sanctuary to the east.
The central bay of the narthex is covered by a dome, the two side bays by cross vaults. The nave is partitioned by four piers, which substituted in the Ottoman period the original columns. Many openings - windows, oeil-de-boeufs and arches - give light to the structure. The exterior of the building is characterized by the half cylindrical buttresses which articulate its façades. Originally an exonarthex existed too, but in the Ottoman period it was replaced by a wooden portico.
The building has three polygonal apses. The central one belongs to the sanctuary (bema), while the lateral are parts of two clover-shaped side chapels (pastophoria), prothesis and diakonikon. The Ottomans built a stone minaret close to the narthex. The building was originally decorated with a marble revetment and mosaics, which disappeared totally. As a whole, Bodrum mosque shows strong analogies with the north church of the Fenari Isa complex.
The substructure, in contrast with the building, has an austere and rough aspect. Originally its purpose was only that of bringing the church to the same level of the palace of Lekapenos. After the restoration in the Palaiologan period it was used as burial chapel. This edifice is the first example of a private burial church of a Byzantine emperor, starting so a tradition typical of the later Komnenian and Palaiologan periods. Moreover, the building represents a beautiful example of the cross-in-square type church, the new architectural type of the middle Byzantine architecture.
The palace of Myrelaion was built on top of a giant fifth century rotunda which, with an external diameter of 41.8 meters, was the second largest, after the Roman Pantheon, in the ancient world. In the tenth century the rotunda was not used anymore, and then it was converted - possibly by Romanos himself - into a cistern by covering its interior with a vaulted system carried by at least 70 columns. Near the palace the Emperor built a church, which he intended from the beginning to use as burial place for his family.
The building was finally restored in 1986 when it was reopened as mosque. In 1990, the cistern was restored too, and it has hosted a shopping mall for a few years. Now the cistern is used by the women to pray. The thickness of its stone wall is 5 m and it measures 28 x 22 m. The mosque was named after its substructure (the meaning of the Turkish word ‘bodrum’ is subterranean vault or basement).
In 1930, an excavation led by David Talbot Rice discovered the round cistern. In 1964-1965, a radical restoration led by the Archaeological Museum of Istanbul replaced almost all the external masonry of the edifice, and was then interrupted. In 1965, two parallel excavations led by art historian Cecil L. Striker and by R. Naumann focused respectively on the substructure and on the imperial palace. The cistern, near the church and now used as a store, has a roof 30 m in diameter, supported by 70 columns; most of them are original, with heights ranging from 2.5 to 2.9 m.
A simple minaret of cut stone is attached to the northwest corner of the narthex. Surrounded by a walled precinct in Ottoman times, the Bodrum mosque is threatened by encroaching rows of concrete apartment buildings today.
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