Sunday, June 3, 2018


Zeyrek, Fatih - İstanbul - Turkey

GPS : 41°01'11.0"N 28°57'26.0"E / 41.019722, 28.957222


The complex is placed in Fazilet Sokağı, in the district of Fatih, in a popular neighborhood which got its name (Zeyrek) from the Mosque, and less than one km to the southeast of Eski Imaret Mosque. Zeyrek Mosque (full name in Turkish: Molla Zeyrek Camii), is a mosque in Istanbul, made of two former Eastern Orthodox churches and a chapel.

It represents the most typical example of architecture of the Byzantine middle period in Constantinople and is, after Hagia Sophia, the second largest religious edifice built by the Byzantines remaining in Istanbul.

The monastery complex was first converted to a madrasa (religious school) and named after Molla Zeyrek Efendi, who was assigned chief scholar of this school. After the completion of the Medreses in the Fatih complex in 1471, the students abandoned Zeyrek, and as several madrasas were built following the construction of the nearby Fatih Mosque complex, the Zeyrek medrese was closed and the building converted to a mosque.

Converted to a mosque after temporary use as a madrasa after the Ottoman takeover, the church was named "Zeyrek" after Molla Zeyrek Mehmed Efendi, a resident of the neighborhood who taught at the madrasa. The mosque, repaired after a fire in mid 18th century, fell into disrepair by the 1950s. The library of the monastery burnt in 1934. The building was again ruined during the 1950s but was restored by the Directorate of Religious Endowments in 1966. The northern church and its narthex were restored by the Ministry of Religious Endowments in 1966-67

Until a few years ago, the edifice was in a desolate state, and as a result it was added to the UNESCO watchlist of endangered monuments. During the recent years it underwent extensive (albeit still unfinished) restoration. To the East lies the Ottoman Konak (Zeyrek Hane), which has also been restored and is now open as a restaurant and tea garden. Right next to Zeyrek Mosque is also the Zeyrekhane restaurant, where you can enjoy a perfect İstanbul sunset while enjoying one of your favorite beverages.The Zeyrek Church Mosque was included in the annual list of the World Monuments Watch "100 Most Endangered Sites" in 2002.

The masonry has been partly built adopting the technique of the recessed brick, typical of the Byzantine architecture of the middle period. In this technique, alternate courses of bricks are mounted behind the line of the wall, and are plunged in a mortar's bed. Due to that, the thickness of the mortar layers is about three times greater than that of the bricks layers.

The south and the north church are both cross domed with polygonal apses having seven sides, and not five as was typical in the Byzantine architecture of the previous century. The apses have also triple lancet windows flanked by niches. The southern church is the largest. To the East it has an esonarthex, which later was extended up to the imperial chapel. The church is surmounted by two domes, one over the naos and the other over the matroneum (a separate upper gallery for women) of the narthex.

The decoration of this church, which was very rich, disappeared almost completely, except for some fragments of marble in the presbyterium and, above all, a beautiful floor in opus sectile made with colored marbles worked in cloisonné technique, where human and animal figures are represented. Moreover, fragments of colored glass suggest that the windows of this church were once made of stained glass bearing figures of Saints. The mosaics of the interior, representing the apostles and the life of Christ, were still visible - although defaced - in the 18th century.

The imperial chapel is covered by barrel vaults and is surmounted by two domes too. The north church has only one dome, and is notable for its frieze, carved with a dog's tooth and triangle motif running along the eaves line. Close to the Mosque is placed the small Şeyh Süleyman Mescidi, a small byzantine building belonging also to the Pantokrator Monastery. As a whole, this complex represents the most typical example of architecture of the Byzantine middle period in Constantinople.

As it stands the Pantokrator is a combination of three churches, placed side by side, and communicating with one another through arched openings in their common walls. The three buildings are not of the same date, and opinions differ in regard to their relative age. On the whole, however, the northern church may be safely considered the earliest structure; the central church is somewhat later; the southern church is the latest.

Byzantine Period
Between 1118 and 1124 Byzantine Empress Eirene Komnena built a monastery on this site dedicated to Christ Pantokrator. The monastery consisted of a main church (which became the Katholikon of the monastery) also dedicated to the Pantokrator, a library and a hospital. After the death of his wife, shortly after 1124, Emperor John II Komnenos built another church to the north of the first dedicated to the Theotokos Eleousa "the merciful". This church was open to the population and served by a lay clergy.

Finally (the terminus ante quem is 1136) a south courtyard and an exonarthex were added to the complex, and the two shrines were connected with a chapel (dedicated to Saint Michael), which became the imperial mausoleum (heroon) of the Komnenos and Palaiologos dynasties. Besides many Byzantine dignitaries, Emperor John II and his wife Eirene, Empress Bertha of Sulzbach (also known as Eirene, and wife of Manuel I Komnenos), and Emperor John V Palaiologos were buried here.

During the Latin domination after the Fourth Crusade, the complex was the see of the Venetian clergy, and the icon of the Theotokos Hodegetria was housed here. The monastery was also used as an imperial palace by the last Latin Emperor, Baldwin. After the Palaiologan restoration the monastery was used again by Orthodox monks. The most famous among them was Gennadius II Scholarius, who left the Pantokrator to become the first Patriarch of Constantinople after the Islamic conquest of the city.

Ottoman and Republican Period
Shortly after the Fall of Constantinople the building was converted into a mosque, and the monastery was converted for a while into a Medrese. The Ottomans named it after Molla Zeyrek, a scholar who was teaching there. However, due to its importance in Byzantine history, Zeyrek was one among the few buildings of Istanbul whose ancient denomination was never forgotten. Among others, the church of Pantokrator is remembered by Pierre Gilles in his classic work about Constantinople, written in the sixteenth century. After the completion of the Medreses in the Fatih complex in 1471, the students abandoned Zeyrek, and the rooms of the monastery occupied by the Medrese vanished later.

Archaeological studies by the Byzantine Institute of America in the mid 1950s have revealed floor mosaics of the period. The central church was re-opened for Islamic prayer during this time and the Directorate of Religious Endowments restored the northern church in 1966. The current restoration work, begun in 1997 by Professors Robert Ousterhout, Zeynep Ahunbay and Metin Ahunbay, is funded by the Kress Foundation/World Monuments Fund, University of Illinois Research Fund, Istanbul Technical University and Dumbarton Oaks Project Grants.

The Zeyrek Church Mosque was included in the annual list of the World Monuments Watch "100 Most Endangered Sites" in 2002. During the recent years it underwent extensive (albeit still unfinished) restoration. Today Zeyrek Mosque is - after Hagia Sophia - the second largest extant religious edifice built by the Byzantines in Istanbul. To the East lies the Ottoman Konak (Zeyrek Hane), which has also been restored and is now open as a restaurant and tea garden.

The Northern Church
This is a simple and dignified building of the domed 'four column' type, with a gynaeceum above the narthex. The narthex is in four  bays covered with cross-groined vaults on transverse arches. Its southern bay, however, is a later extension, running about half-way in front of the central church to give access to a door into that building. Only two bays of the original narthex have doors opening into the north church; the third door which once existed in the northern bay has been partly built up.

The narthex is very much out of repair, and the western wall threatens to fall outwards. The dome, pierced by eight windows, shows so many Turkish features that it may be pronounced as mostly, if not wholly, a Turkish construction. The four square piers which support it are manifestly Turkish. When Gyllius visited the church in the sixteenth century the dome arches rested on four columns of Theban granite, 'hemispherium sustentatur quatuor arcubus, quos fulciunt quatuor columnae marmoris Thebaici.

Barrel vaults cover the arms of the cross, which, as usual in churches of this type, appears distinctly above the roof on the exterior. The southern arm extends to the central church and its vault is pierced by two windows, inserted, probably, to compensate for the loss of light occasioned by the erection of that building. These windows furnish one indication of the earlier date of the north church.

The gynaeceum, like the narthex below it, is covered with cross-groined vaults and contains a small fireplace. The prothesis and diaconicon have barrel vaults and apses with three sides projecting slightly on the exterior. The main apse has a very lofty triple window, and shows five sides. All the apses are decorated with high shallow blind niches, a simple but effective ornament.

The Central Church
The central church is an oblong hall covered by two domes, and terminates in a large apse. It is extremely irregular in plan, and does not lie parallel to either of the churches between which it stands. The domes are separated by a transverse arch. The western dome, though flattened somewhat on the four sides, is approximately circular, and divided into sixteen shallow concave compartments, each pierced by a window. Some of these windows must have been always blocked by the roof of the north church.

The eastern dome is a pronounced oval, notwithstanding the attempt to form a square base for it by building a subsidiary arch both on the south and on the north. It is divided into twenty-four concave compartments, twelve of which have windows. The drums of the domes adjoin each other above the transverse arch, so that the central west window of the eastern dome is pierced through to the western dome. The two windows on either side of that window are blind, and must always have been so. The floor in the archway leading into the south church is paved with inlaid marbles forming a beautiful design.

If the whole floor of the church was thus decorated the effect must have been extremely rich. On the exterior the apse shows seven sides, decorated with shallow blind niches. Like the church it is very irregularly set out. The central church probably served as a mausoleum for the tombs of the imperial personages interred at the Pantokrator. In its form and in the arrangement of its domes, as well as in its position on the south of the church to which it strictly belongs, it resembles the parecclesion of S. Saviour in the Chora.

The South Church
The south church is of the same plan as the north church, but is larger and more richly decorated. It has two narthexes, which extend to both the north and south beyond the body of the building. The outer narthex, entered by a single door placed in the centre, is in five bays, covered with cross-groined vaults resting on pilasters. Its floor is paved with large slabs of Proconnesian marble surrounded by a border of red marble.

Five doors lead to the esonarthex - the three central doors being framed in red marble, the other two in verd antique. On either side of the central door is a window also framed in verd antique, the jambs of the windows being cut from old columns, and retaining the circular form on their faces. Over the central door and the windows beside it is a large  arch between two smaller arches - all three, as well as their bracket capitals, now partially built up. There is a door framed in verd antique in each end bay of the narthex. Like the outer narthex the esonarthex is in five bays, and was paved with marble in a similar fashion.

But while its other bays are covered with cross-groined vaults the central bay is open to the gallery above, and is overhung by a drum dome. The gallery was thus divided into two parts by the open central bay, and both gallery and narthex were lighted by the dome. The exterior of this dome is twelve-sided, with flat angle pilasters and level moulded plaster cornice. It has evidently been repaired by the Turks. The inside, however, preserves the Byzantine work. It is in twenty-four concave apartments pierced by twelve windows, of which those facing the west cross arm of the church are blind.

As the original west window still shows from the inside, though built up, it would appear that the gynecaeum dome was added after the completion of the main church. At present the open bay is ceiled by the woodwork that forms the floor of the tribune occupied by the Sultan when he attends worship in the mosque. A door in the northern wall of the north bay communicates with the narthex of the north church, while a door in the eastern wall of the bay gives access to the central church.

Two doors in similar positions in the bay at the south end of the narthex led to buildings which have disappeared. The three doors leading from the narthex into the church are framed in red marble, the other doors in white marble. The main dome of the church is in sixteen compartments, and is pierced by as many windows. Its arches rest on four shafted columns, somewhat Gothic in character, and crowned with capitals distinctly Turkish.

These columns have replaced the columns of porphyry, seven feet in circumference, which Gyllius saw bearing the arches of the dome when he visited the church: 'maximum (tectum) sustentatur quatuor columnis pyrrhopoecilis, quarum perimeter habet septem pedes. The southern wall is lighted by a triple window in the gable and a row of three windows  below the string-course. The northern wall was treated on the same plan, but with the modifications rendered necessary by the union of the church with the earlier central church.

The triple windows in the gable of that wall are therefore almost blocked by the roof of the central church against which it is built; while the three windows below the string-course are blind and are cut short by the arch opening into the central church, as that arch rises higher than the string-course. As explained, the gynaeceum above the inner narthex is divided by the open central bay of that narthex into two compartments, each consisting of two bays.

The bays to the south are narrow, with transverse arches of decidedly elliptical form. A window divided by shafts in three lights, now built up, stood in the bay at the extreme south, and similar windows looked down into the open bay of the narthex from the bays on either hand. The northern compartment of the gynaeceum connects with the gynaeceum of the north church.

In the interior the apse retains a large portion of its revetment of variously coloured marbles, and gives some idea of the original splendour of the decoration. Fragments of fine carving have been built into the pulpit of the mosque, and over it is a Byzantine canopy supported on twin columns looped together, like the twin columns on the façade of S. Mark's at Venice.

The lateral apses are covered with cross-groined vaults, and project in three sides externally, while the central apse shows seven sides. All are lighted by triple windows, and decorated on the exterior with niches, like the other apses in this group of buildings, and those of S. Theodosia. In the brickwork found in the fabric of the Pantokrator, two sizes of brick are employed, a larger and a smaller size laid in alternate courses. The larger bricks look like old material used again.

The stone foundations remain to the south, where a building as large as the northern church was attached to the narthexes. A wooden takiyya (tekke), built on these foundations during Ottoman times, is seen in older photographs along with housing that was built along the southern wall of the churches.


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