Monday, October 1, 2018


Vefa, Fatih - Istanbul - Turkey

GPS : 41°00'59.0"N 28°57'37.0"E / 41.016389, 28.960278


The building lies in Istanbul, in the district of Fatih, in the neighborhood of Vefa, less than one kilometer to the northwest of the other great Byzantine building in Vefa (the mosque of Kalenderhane), and a few hundred meters south of the Süleymaniye Mosque. Vefa Church Mosque (Turkish: Vefa Church Mosque, meaning "the church mosque of Loyalty", to distinguish it from the other churches mosques of Istanbul.

Vefa Kilise Mosque (Turkish: Vefa Kilise Camii, meaning "the church mosque of Vefa", to distinguish it from the other kilise camiler of Istanbul: also known as Molla Gürani Camii after the name of his founder) is a former Eastern Orthodox church converted into a mosque by the Ottomans. The church was possibly dedicated to Hagios Theodoros (St. Theodore, but this dedication is far from certain. The complex represents one of the most important examples of Comnenian and Palaiologan architecture of Constantinople.

The dedication to Hagios Theodoros is also far from certain. In the first half of the 14th century a parekklesion was built along the church. During the Latin domination of Constantinople after the Fourth Crusade the edifice was used as a Roman Catholic church. Shortly after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, the church became a mosque, founded by the famous scholar Molla Gürani, who was the tutor of Sultan Mehmed II and would become Şeyhülislam and the first Mufti of Istanbul.

In year 908 the Byzantine Admiral Konstantinos Lips, who would perish in 917 fighting against Simeon I's Bulgaria, inaugurated at the presence of the Emperor Leo VI the Wise a nunnery dedicated to the Virgin Theotokos "Immaculate Mother of God" in a place called "Merdosangaris", in the valley of the Lykos. The monastery, which had also a Xenon "hospital" with 15 beds attached, was known also after his name (Mone tou Livos), and became one of the largest of Constantinople.

The church of the monastery, also dedicated to the Virgin, was built on the remains of another shrine of the sixth century, and using the tombstones of an ancient roman cemetery. The church hosted the relics of Saint Irene, and the monastery, according to its Typicon, hosted a total of 50 women.  The church was generally known as "North Church".

After the Latin invasion and the restoration of the Empire, between 1286 and 1304, Empress Theodora, widow of Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos, erected another church dedicated to St. John the Baptist south of the first church. Several exponents of the imperial dynasty of the Palaiologos were buried there besides Theodora: her son Konstantinos, Empress Eirene of Montferrat and her husband Emperor Andronikos II. This church is generally known as the "South Church".

During the fourteenth century an esonarthex and a parekklesion were added to this church. The habit of burying members of the imperial family in the complex continued also in the fifteenth century with Anna, first wife of Emperor John VIII Palaiologos, dead in 1417. The church was possibly used as resting place also after 1453.

The conversion took place during the reign of Sultan Mehmed II, it was Molla Gürani, sheikulislam, who transformed the church into a waqf founded in 1484 by mosque. A Gürani and signed by Mullah Ali bin Yusuf-ul Fenari, provided for the upkeep of this structure with income from a group of buildings in the mahalle of Sheik Vefa.

On the site, encircled by the Vefa Street, Vefa Tomb and the Darülhadis Streets, the earliest buildings of Sheikh Vefa Complex dated from 1476. The complex consisted of social buildings such as kitchen, library, etc, which were built between 1481 and 1490. The mosque of the complex was demolished between 1908 and 1910 in order to reconstruct it. However, the restoration dragged on until 1990s due to the effects of World War I.

The brick wall mosque measures 27 x 15 m, and it is covered by a dome measuring 11 meters in diameter. The çilehane, which is reached through mihrab, is a small cabin measuring 2.5 x 2.7 m. The tomb of Sheikh Vefa measuring 8.3 x 8.3 m is lit by eight windows. Today, theological school (tekke) and madrasah are virtually in ruined.

In 1497 / 98, shortly after the Fall of Constantinople and under the reign of Sultan Beyazid II, the south church was converted into a mescit (a small mosque) by the Ottoman dignitary Fenarizade Alaeddin Ali bin Yusuf Effendi, Kadıasker of Rumeli, and nephew of Molla Şemseddin Fenari, whose family belonged to the religious class of the ulema. He built a minaret in the southeast angle, and a Mihrab in the apse. Since one of the head preachers of the Madrasah was named İsa "Jesus" in Arabic and Turkish, his name was added to that of the mosque.

The edifice burned down in 1633, was restored in 1636 by Grand Vizier Bayram Pasha, who upgraded the building to cami (mosque) and converted the north church into a Tekke (a dervish lodge). In this occasion the columns of the north church were substitued with piers, the two domes were renovated, and the mosaic decoration was removed.

After another fire in 1782, the complex was restored again in 1847 - 1848. In this occasion also the columns of the south church were substituted with piers, and the balustrade parapets of the narthex were removed too. The building burned once more in 1918,  and was abandoned. During excavations performed in 1929, 22 sarcophagi have been found. The complex has been thoroughly restored between the 1970s and 1980s, and since then serves again as a mosque.

This is a brand new mosque erected on the site of the original Vefa Camii, built in the late fifteenth century. All that is left of the original mosque complex is the türbe of its founder, Şeyh Muslihiddin Vefa, dated A.H. 896 (A.D. 1491). In years past Şeyh Vefa was one of the most popular folk-saints in Istanbul, and even today a few old women occasionally come to pray at his türbe. Although Şeyh Vefa was one of the most renowned scholars of his time, he decided quite early in life that he would devote himself entirely to the welfare of the poor.

He therefore expended his fortune to build a pious foundation which included a mosque, hamam, primary school, imaret and kervansaray, where the poor could be assured of food and shelter for as long as they were in need. All of these benefactions have now disappeared, although the pious poor of modern İstanbul still come to pay their reverence at Şeyh Vefa’s tomb.

The mosque is also named after him. In the 19th century the mosque was badly damaged, possibly by the fire which in 1833 ravaged the surrounding quarter. In 1848 the complex was restored: in that occasion the mosaics which adorned the building were largely destroyed. It is also possible that at the same time the parekklesion was pulled down, and the four columns at the center of the church were substituted with pillars. In 1937, the building underwent a partial restoration, and its surviving mosaics were uncovered and cleaned.

The origin of the building, which lies on the southern slope of the third hill of Constantinople, is not certain. The dedication to S. Theodore is based upon the identification of the surroundings with the byzantine neighborhood of ta Karbounaria (the coal market), but this is not sure. On the site, rests of buildings of the 5th century have been found. Judging by its masonry, it was erected in the 10th or the 11th centuries.

The church proper, which has never been studied systematically, has a cross-in-square (or quincunx) plan, with each side nine meters long. Together with the Eski Imaret Mosque, provides an example of the Komnenian style in Constantinople. Its masonry consists of bricks, mounted adopting the technique of the recessed brick, typical of the Byzantine architecture of the middle period. In this technique, alternate courses of brick are mounted behind the line of the wall, and are plunged into a mortar bed.

Due to that, the thickness of the mortar layers is about three times greater than that of the brick layers. The building has blind arcades, and the apse is interrupted by a triple lancet window with niches over it. The light penetrates into the cross arms through triple arcades. The exterior of the main church has occasional decorative motifs, such as snake patterns. Besides this building, the complex contains also an exonarthex to the west, a portico (which joins a parekklesion with the bema) with columns and arches to the south, and finally a corridor to the north.

The exonarthex represents one of the most typical examples of Palaiologan architecture in Constantinople, along with the parekklesia of the Pammakaristos, the Chora Churches, and Fethiye Mosque. The date of its edification should be placed after those of the parekklesia of the Pammakaristos and Chora Churches. Its façade has two orders, both opened with arcades. On the lower order there are angular niches followed by triple arcades.

The higher order is quite different from the lower, and has five semicircular blind arcades framing windows. The masonry is made of banded and colorful brickwork and stonework, especially visible on the north side. Overall, the execution is less refined than in the parekklesion of the Fethiye Mosque. The exonarthex is surmounted by three domes.

The lateral ones are of umbrella type, while the central one has ribs. The internal decoration of the exonarthex includes: columns, capitals and closure slabs which are all reused material from the Early Byzantine period. The three domes were all covered with mosaics. Those on the south and the central domes were cleaned in 1937 under the direction of M. I. Nomides and the Ministry of Mosques, but as of 2007 they have disappeared almost completely.

They represent respectively the Virgin Theotokos surrounded by prophets and two imperial officers with prophets. The interior of the church proper, on the contrary, has never been de-plastered up to now. Two fairly large underground cisterns placed to the S and W of the church hint to the existence of a monastery in the Byzantine age.

The church is a good example of the four column type, with an outer and an inner narthex. The former is in five bays, and extends to the north and south, by one bay, beyond the inner narthex and the body of the church. The terminal bays, it would seem, led to cloisters built against the exterior of the northern and southern sides of the building. Le Noir and Salzenberg show a cloister along the south side of the church, with four columns and an apse at its end.

The central bay and the two terminal bays are covered with domes on high drums, without windows. The dome of the central bay has sixteen lobed bays, while its companions have each eight flat ribs. All traces of the mosaics which Salzenberg saw in the central dome have disappeared. On the exterior the three domes are octagonal, decorated with flat niches and angle shafts supporting an arched cornice.

The exonarthex deserves special attentions on account of its façade. It is a fine composition of two triple arcades, separated by a solid piece of masonry containing the door. On either side of the door, and on the piers at each end of the façade, are slender flat niches, similar to those which occur in S. Mark's, Venice.

The finely carved capitals of the columns differ in type, the two northern being a variant of the 'melon type,' the pair to the south being Corinthian. They are probably old  capitals re-used. Throughout the building are traces of stones from some older building recut or adapted to the present church. Between the columns is a breastwork of carved marble slabs similar in style to those seen in S. Mark's and in S. Fosca, Torcello.

The upper part of the façade does not correspond to the composition below it, but follows the divisions of the internal vaulting. It is in five circular-arched bays, each containing an arched window. The infilling is of brick in various patterns. The cornice looks Turkish. While the masonry of the lower portion of the arcade is in alternate courses of one stone and two bricks, that of the upper portion has alternate courses of one stone and three bricks.

Moreover, while the design of the upper portion is determined by the vaulting of the narthex, the lower portion takes a more independent line. These differences may indicate different periods of construction, but we find a similar type of design in other Byzantine buildings, as, for example, in the walls of the palace of the Porphyrogenitus, where the different stories are distinct in design, and do not closely correspond to one another.

The outer narthex of S. Theodore may have been built entirely at one time, or its upper story, vaults, and domes may have been added to an already existing lower story. But in any case, notwithstanding all possible adverse criticism, the total effect produced by the façade is pleasing. It presents a noteworthy and successful attempt to relieve the ordinary plainness and heaviness of a Byzantine church exterior, and to give that exterior some grace and beauty.

The effect is the more impressive because the narthex is raised considerably above the level of the ground and reached by a flight of steps. 'Taking it altogether,' says Fergusson, it is perhaps the most complete and elegant church of its class now known to exist in or near the capital, and many of its details are of great beauty and perfection.

The esonarthex is in three bays covered with barrel vaults, and terminates at both ends in a shallow niche. The outer arches spring from square buttresses. From  each bay a door conducts into the church, the central door being set in a marble frame and flanked by two Corinthian columns, which support a bold wall arcade.

The drum of the dome is a polygon of twelve sides, and was lighted by the same number of windows. It rests on four columns, which were originally square, but now have large champs at the angles, dying out at top and bottom. Barrel vaults cover the arms of the cross, and dome vaults surmount the chambers at its angles. As in the Pantokrator, the eastern arm is pierced by two windows in the vaulting surface.

The central apse is lighted by a triple window, having oblong shafts, circular on their inner and outer faces, and bearing capitals now badly injured. A niche indents the northern, eastern, and southern interior walls of the apsidal chapels. The windows in the northern and southern walls of the church have been built up almost to their full height, leaving only small openings for light at the top.

There can be little doubt that they were triple windows with a parapet of carved marble slabs between the shafts. On the exterior the apse shows five sides, and is decorated by an arcade of five arches and an upper tier of five niches. The lateral apses do not project beyond the face of the eastern wall, but are slightly marked out by cutting back the sides and forming angular grooves.

Bayet assigns the church to the ninth or tenth century, the age of Leo the Wise and Constantine Porphyrogenitus. Fergusson is of the same opinion so far as the earlier portions of the building are concerned. But that date is based on the mistaken view that the building is the church of the Theotokos erected by Constantine Lips. Diehl assigns the church to the second half of the eleventh century.

This church presents a good example of the greater interest taken during the later Byzantine period in the external appearance of a church. To the exterior of the walls and the apses some decoration is now applied. The dome is raised on a polygonal drum, with shafts at its angles, and an arched cornice over its windows; the roof gains more diversity of form and elevation by the multiplication of domes, by the protrusion of the vaults of the cross arms and of the apses, thus making the outward garb, so to speak, of the building correspond more closely to the figure and proportions of its inner body.


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