Friday, March 10, 2017


Eğrikapı, Fatih - Istanbul - Turkey

GPS : 41°02'02.0"N 28°56'25.0"E / 41.033889, 28.940278

Tekfur Palace / Egrikapi - Istanbul photo tekfur_palace101.jpg


Tekfur Palace, which is located between Edirnekapı and Eğrikapı beside the ramparts is known to be the only palace surviving from Byzantine period to date. According to the researches, it was determined that the palace belonged to the 13th century. Tekfur Palace is the only sample that remained from the Byzantine Period. Tekfur Palace has an important place not for only Istanbul but also for the world art history since it reflects Byzantine civil architectural style. The date when the palace was built and by whom it was built is still not certain.

The Palace of the Porphyrogenitus, also known as the Palace of Constantine Porphyrogenitus (Turkish: Tekfur Sarayı) which means "Palace of the Emperor" is the ruins of a 13th century Byzantine palace in the north-western part of the old city of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). The Palace was constructed during the late 12th or early 13th centuries as part of the palace complex of Blachernae, where the Theodosian Walls join with the later walls of the suburb of Blachernae.

Although the palace appears at first glance to be named after Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, the 10th Century emperor, it was built long after his time. It is in fact named after Constantine Palaiologos, a son of the Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos. Porphyrogenitus, meaning literally "born to the purple", in this context indicates a child who is heir to the Byzantine throne. The palace served as imperial residence during the final years of the Byzantine Empire.

The palace suffered extensive damage due to its proximity to the outer walls during the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Afterwards, it was used for a wide variety of purposes. During the 16th and 17th century, it housed part of the Sultan's menagerie. The animals were moved elsewhere by the end of the 17th century, and the building was used as a brothel. From 1719, the Tekfur Sarayı pottery workshop was constructed, and began to produce ceramic tiles in a style similar to that of İznik tiles, but influenced by European designs and colors.

The studio had five kilns and also produced vessels and dishes. The project lasted for around a century before going out of business, and by the first half of the 19th century, the building became a poorhouse for Istanbul Jews. In the early 20th century, it was briefly used as a bottle factory, before being abandoned. As a result, only the elaborate brick and stone outer façade survives today, but it is the only major surviving example of secular Byzantine architecture. As of 2006, the palace was undergoing extensive restoration.

The Blakhernai Palaces, known today as Tekfur Palace, was built by the Byzantines in the 12th century and used as an imperial residence until the Conquest of Constantinople in the 15th century. The palace complex was built next to the city walls at the ancient Blakherna district, in todays Eğrikapı neighborhood near Kariye (old church of St. Savior in Chora). The area was one of the seven hills of the old city. The cellars of the palace, known as Anemas Dungeons, were also built next to the walls a little bit further north, just near Ivaz Efendi Mosque.

During the Byzantine period, Tekfur palace was also known as Constantine Porphyrogenetus Palace. It was a pavilion of the Blakhernai Palace complex. The pavilion had three floors with a wooden roof and wooden floors, and was used by the emperor during his visits to the Theotokos church where the mantle of Virgin Mary was kept. The pavilion was enlarged during the reign of Manuel Komnenos I in the 12th century and became a summer residence for the Byzantine emperors.

The Palace was a large three-story building located between the inner and outer fortifications of the northern corner of the Theodosian Walls. The ground floor is an arcade with four arches, which opens into a courtyard overlooked by five large windows on the first floor. The top floor of the structure project above the walls, and has windows on all four sides. On the east is the remnant of a balcony. The roof and all of the floors of the structure have disappeared.

The remaining walls are elaborately decorated in geometric designs using red brick and white marble typical of the late Byzantine period. The Palace reaches to this day from Edirnekapı as concealment with its lives hidden in the pages of history and still adored architecture. Lying between the Theodosios walls in Balat with the load of the centuries, the four walls remained Tekfur Palace watches a large landscape stretching from Pera to Yedikule and from the Prince Islands to Kadıköy.

It is not known, since there is no epigraph on it, who built the Tekfur Palace which is a part of Blahernai Palace Complex one of the Byzantine Era structures - the other one is the Bukoleon Palace - and it is not known what the original name of it was. Tekfur Palace, which is important for world art history since it represents the first civilian architecture style of the Byzantine, is a part of the Blahernai Palace Complex where the Byzantine Emperors settled after leaving the palace in Sultanahmet in the 11th century.

As in Ottoman palaces, Byzantine palaces were comprised of many manor houses. Tekfur palace too, was one of the manor houses belonging to the Blahernai Palace Complex. According to the information we obtained from the Hayri Fehmi Yılmaz, an art historian and the coordinator of Foundation for Developing Cultural Consciousness, the middle floor of the three storey palace was reserved to the palace dwellers. This floor had a beautiful panorama of the city. Ground and top floors were used for services.

The frontage of the palace built in the 14th century opens to a small courtyard. Tekfur Palace which was built as a two building structure has another manor house in its courtyard. Also there is a chapel on the city-side front of the structure. Although it is partially collapsed, this chapel, which we can describe as a ‘private devotion room’, is extant to today. Hayri Fehmi Yılmaz defines this chapel where all the religious motifs and elements in a church can be found, as a ‘one-man devotion cell’.

Yılmaz, who says that ‘for the Blahernai Palace Complex which spans a 100-180 thousand square meters area, one should dream of a huge palace’, denotes that this palace complex was composed of large gardens, terraces, churches and manor houses. Located in a strategically interesting position, the palace looks at the city with its one side and the outskirts of the city with its other side. That is to say, it gives the opportunity to escape to the city or out of the city when necessary. Besides it is thought that the Byzantine Emperors preferred Blahernai palace for this reason.

The wall tiles produced at the Tekfur Palace, which was used as a tile workshop in the 18th century, still bedeck many mosques. These works of art called ‘Tekfur çinileri (Tekfur tiles)’ were produced by the adepts brought from İznik (Nicea). After the conquest of İstanbul, the palace getting popular for a short time with its adepts from İznik, later it was used as glass furnace and later on, in the 19th century, as a refuge for the Jews, and at last in 1865, it became uninhabitable after a fire that caused collapsing of the intermediate floors.

To understand the once grandeur of the Tekfur Palace, except for the tiles, it is also possible to mention the pots decorating the frontage of the palace. These pots made of red bricks and white stones, are of the most beautiful examples where two different materials are used together. This decorative art, mostly seen in Bulgaria and Balkan Peninsula, is seen only in Tekfur Palace and the belfry of the Saint Benoit French Lycée.

It is not so difficult to dream about the brilliant days of Tekfur Palace which is now a ruin. The overhangs sitting on the consoles on the frontages which we can see in late Ottoman architecture draws attention immediately. Today, this unequalled building virtually challenges time.

Tekfur Palace which is under the auspices of Fatih Municipality, still exists as a three storey, roofless building. The seventeen meters long basement, which opens to the front courtyard with four large arcs, is divided into twelve sections each covered with high vaults. The double columns carrying the arcs opening to the courtyard and their capitals were reproduced in the last restoration. There are niche-like cabinets with stone shelves at two sides of the windows in the large arcs on the second floor wall facing the courtyard and on the four walls of the third floor.

Just beyond the site of this gate there stands one of the most remarkable buildings remaining from the days of Byzantium. It is known in Turkish as Tekfur Saray, or the Palace of the Sovereign, though it is sometimes called the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus. The palace was probably built in the latter part of the thirteenth or early in the fourteenth century, and served as one of the imperial residences during the last two centuries of the Empire: it was perhaps an annexe of the nearby Palace of Blachernae.

It is a large three-storeyed building wedged in between the inner and outer walls of the last stretch of the Theodosian fortifications. On the ground floor an arcade with four wide arches opens onto the courtyard, which is overlooked on the first floor by five large windows. The top floor, which projects above the walls, has windows on all sides, seven overlooking the courtyard, a curious bow-like apse on the opposite side, and a window with the remains of a balcony to the east.

The roof and all the floors have disappeared. The whole palace, but especially the façade on the court, is elaborately decorated with geometrical designs in red brick and white marble so typical of the later period of Byzantine architecture; compare the façades of St. Saviour in Chora and of St. Theodore, both of the fourteenth century. After the Conquest the palace was used for a variety of purposes. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was used as a menagerie, particularly for larger and tamer animals such as elephants and giraffes.

The latter animal particularly amazed European travellers, for they had never seen one before. In 1597, Fynes Moryson describes it thus: “a beaste newly brought out of Affricke, (the Mother of Monsters) which beaste is altogether unknowne in our parts, he many times put his nose in my necke, when I thought my selfe furthest distant from him, which familiarity I liked not; and howsoever his Keepers assured me he would not hurt me, yet I avoided those his familiar kisses as much as I could.”

Before the end of the seventeenth century the animals were moved elsewhere and the palace served for a while as a brothel. But it was soon redeemed from this misuse; for in 1719 there was set up here the famous Tekfur Saray pottery. This works produced a new kind of Turkish tile, the so-called Tekfur Saray type, inferior indeed to those of Iznik and beginning to show European influence, but nevertheless quite charming. The project, however, was short-lived and by the second half of the eighteenth century the palace was in full decline and finally lost its roof and floors.

During the first half of the nineteenth century Tekfur Saray served as a poorhouse for the indigent Jews of Stamboul. About 1860, the American missionary Cyrus Hamlin, searching for a site for the future Robert College, seriously considered purchasing the palace and restoring it for use as an educational institution; perhaps fortunately, the idea was abandoned in favour of the present site of the College (now Boğaziçi University) on the Bosphorus.

In recent years the palace has served as a bottle works and storehouse - the lamentable history of a palace down on its luck. The building is now a mere shell; but in recent years the surviving structure has been well restored. Just beyond Tekfur Saray the Theodosian wall comes to an abrupt end, and from there the fortifications are continued by walls of later construction. There has been much discussion about the original course of the Theodosian walls from Tekfur Saray down to the Golden Horn.

It would appear that they turned almost due north at Tekfur Saray and from there followed a more or less straight line down to the Horn, whereas the present walls are bent in an arc farther out into Thrace. Stretches of what are undoubtedly the original Theodosian wall can be seen at Tekfur Saray and also along Mumhane Caddesi, which we reach by turning right in the little square beyond the palace and then taking the first left. The ruined walls along this street are quite impressive and picturesque.

The present stretch of walls from Tekfur Saray to the Golden Horn is quite different from the Theodosian fortifications. It is a single bulwark without a moat; to make up for this deficiency it is thicker and more massive than the main Theodosian wall and its towers are stronger, higher and closer together. The part of the wall that encloses the western bulge between Tekfur Saray and the Blachernae terrace can be fairly well inspected if we follow the street closest to the wall and walk through the gardens of the intervening houses.

Tekfur Palace is cared for by the Fatih Municipality, and still exists as a three-storey, roofless building. The 17-meter-long basement, which opens to the front courtyard with four large arches, is divided into twelve sections each covered with high vaults. The double columns carrying the arches open onto the courtyard and their capitals were reproduced for the last restoration. There are niche-like cabinets with stone shelves at two sides of the windows in the large arches on the second floor wall facing the courtyard and on the four walls of the third floor.

It was used for various aims after the conquest of Istanbul in 1453. It was restored between the years 1955 - 1970. Presently Tekfur Palace is a three storey building without a roof. Today, one can see the façade of the Tekfur palace and the remains of four walls. It has a rectangular plan. Outer walls, arches and window frames of the palace are decorated with stones and bricks. I

f you follow the walls to the direction of the Golden Horn, you can reach to the Anemas Dungeons as well. At the moment these tunnels and halls are being cleaned so it's not open to the public, it can be visited only by a special permission. As of March 2015, the building now has roof and glass windows.


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