Shortly after Constantinople fell to the invading Ottoman armies in 1453, the twelfth-century Church of the Monastery of Christ Pantokrator was converted into the Zeyrek Camii mosque. Named after Molla Zeyrek, a well-known scholar who lived during the reign of Sultan Mehmed II, Zeyrek Camii served not only as a religious center but also as a hub for Islamic enlightenment. The church-turned-mosque is one of the finest examples of religious architecture from the Byzantine era in Istanbul and the second-largest surviving Byzantine religious structure in the city after Hagia Sophia. The church and monastery were built by Emperor John II Komnenos to honor his wife’s wishes to house the “poor, sick, and suffering souls.” The north and south churches, dedicated to Christ Pantokrator and the Archangel St. Michael, are connected by an imperial chapel that was used as a mausoleum for the Komnenos and Palaiologos dynasties. This masterpiece of the middle period of Byzantine architecture consists of extraordinary domes capping the north and south churches and the imperial chapel, with complimentary interiors formed by elegant vaults and arches. Today, the monastery has completely disappeared except for the cistern, some structural elements, and timber houses that served as residences during Ottoman rule, encircling the Zeyrek Camii.
How We Helped
WMF conserved Zeyrek Camii from 2001 to 2003. Lead sheets from the vandalized and deteriorated roof were replaced. The debris, mud, and vegetation covering the walls and cornices were removed. Documentation of the eastern façades of the north and south churches displayed existing bricks, stones, and cracks of the structures. Restitution drawings and a conservation proposal were drafted, missing bricks were replaced, and cornices were conserved. Empty window frames left over from a previous incomplete restoration were glazed with sanded glass, preventing rain from entering the structures. The damaged arches, vaults, and roof of the imperial chapel were also conserved.
Why It Matters
The Zeryek Camii complex served as both an important Christian religious and education center and later as a mosque established to educate Muslim students. Zeyrek Camii shares similarities with its not-too-distant neighbor, Hagia Sofia. Both have housed two religions under their majestic domed roofs and have functioned as dominant architectural symbols of the Byzantine and Ottoman eras. After Hagia Sofia, Zeyrek Camii is the second largest religious structure from the Byzantine Empire to survive in Istanbul.