The Zeyrek Mosque, located in the historical Zeyrek district of Istanbul and revived with the recent restoration, welcomes its visitors as a beautiful blend of Byzantine texture with the Ottoman Empire.
Princess Piroska was born in the late 11th century, in 1088, in Esztergom, one of the important cities of the Hungarian Kingdom. Piroska loses her mother and father, who was the king, at a young age. She was later married to Crown Prince John by his cousin, who was on the throne, to strengthen the relationship with Eastern Rome, one of the most important powers of the period. Piroska has now become Empress Irene, with John II Komnenos ascending the throne from 1118 onwards.
After Empress Irene‘s transition to orthodoxy and her husband now being the only ruler of the throne, she orders an important architect, Nikeforos, to build a monastery in a position dominating the Golden Horn in the same year. And construction work begins. The complex monastery dedicated to the Pantocrator Jesus was designed to contain the main church, hospital and library. Empress Irene’s sudden death after the end of construction in 1124, Emperor John II Komneos was very upset. John II Komneos sees the monastery built by his wife as an heirloom and orders a new building work in 1124 to grow it. The walls of a second church rise up north of the building. The walls, which are mostly built with bricks brought from old buildings and the hidden stone system, also give clues to a society that has learned to live in earthquakes and took precautions. The construction of the northern church, which was built on behalf of Theotokos Eleousa, the Mother of Blessed Virgin Mary or Mother of Affectionate, is completed in a short time.
The last part of the building is dedicated to Archangel Michael Chapel, which connects the northern and southern churches and also many members of the Imperial families Komneos and Palaiologos dynasties were buried. The mausoleums of chiefs of building Empress Irene and Emperor John II Komneos were there. In addition, it is also known that Emperor I. Manuel’s wife Empress Bertha and Emperor John V Palailogos were buried.
After the Fourth Crusades, which took place in the early 13th century, the building used by the Venetian Catholic priests during Latin Occupation. Even it is used as a palace by Latin Emperor Baldwin. Many important works from the complex at that time were smuggled into various cities of Europe, especially to Venice. In fact, it is stated that in some sources it was looted down to even the smallest gemstones.
The Palaiologos Dynasty, which retained the Eastern Roman administration after the Latin Invasion, takes care of it and reorganizes it to be used as a monastery. Since the reign of Emperor Michael VIII Palailogos, the building has started to revive to regain its glory, though not as much as its old days. The complex, which was used as a monastery until the conquest of Istanbul, attracted attention as one of the important places where Orthodox priests were brought up. So much so that during the time of the last emperor Constantine XI, the priest Gennadios also took part in the monastery. Gennadios became a patriarch upon the invitation of Sultan Mehmet II after the conquest.
After the conquest of Istanbul, Sultan Mehmet II decided to make some changes considering the priority needs of the city. The functions of many buildings, especially the Pantocrator Church, have been changed. In the first place, it was one of the eight structures that were converted from a monastery or church to a mosque or madrasah. It was used as a madrasah and mosque until the construction of Fatih Mosque was completed. After the conquest, he got his name from the religious scholar Zeyrek Mehmet. Even one of the famous scholars of Mehmet II, Akşemseddin taught here for a while. When the Fatih Mosque and the surrounding madrasah structures were completed, it was only used as a mosque. The mihrab was replaced with the iconostasis in the South Church and the structure became a mosque. The sultan’s lodge of the building is one of the most remarkable points. In the period of the Sultan Ahmed III of the Tulip Age, the sultan’s lodge was designed under the influence of the French baroque and rococo, which started to be seen more in the Ottoman period, especially after the visit of Yirmisekiz Mehmet Celebi to France. The sultan’s lodge of the building still continues to reflect of the Tulip Age.
Zeyrek Mosque has been renovated many times in different periods in the Ottoman Empire. Especially repairs after fires in 1756 and the big earthquake in 1766. The ‘opus sectile’, located in the South Church section of the building, was also preserved during the restoration work carried out in different periods. Today, the building, which has been neglected until recently, has been revived with detailed restoration works between 2010 – 2019. Although most of the monastery structures around the building are not standing anymore, it still attracts attention as one of the most important historical traces of Istanbul with its Byzantine and Ottoman textures.
Ahunbay, M. ve Z., 2011, “Zeyrek Camii’nde Restorasyon Çalışmaları (1997-98, 2000-05)”, KUDEB, Kargir Yapılarda Koruma ve Onarım Semineri II, p.33-53.
Esmer, M., 2004, Zeyrek Camii Hünkar Kasrı ve Mahfili Restorasyonu, Yüksek Lisans Tezi, İstanbul Teknik Üniversitesi
Eyice, S., 1994, Zeyrek Kilise Camii. Dünden Bugüne İstanbul Ansiklopedisi, (Cilt 7, p.555-557). İstanbul.
Müller-Wiener, W., Cramer, J., 1982, İstanbul- Zeyrek Studien zur Erhaltung eines Traditionellen Wohngebietes, Deutsches Orient Institut, Hamburg.