The Byzantine Empire, also known as the Eastern Roman Empire, dominated Eastern Europe from 395 AD until the 15th century. During its heyday, the empire had vast territories stretching from Spain to India. Until the city was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1453, Istanbul was the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Thus, today, throughout Istanbul, one can see the rich cultural and architectural heritage of the Byzantine Empire. Here are the Byzantine buildings in Istanbul…
1. Hagia Sophia
When it comes to Byzantine buildings in Istanbul, the first thing that comes to mind is Hagia Sophia. The original Hagia Sophia was built by Constantine the Great in the 4th century AD. However, the building, destroyed for various reasons, was restored by the Byzantine emperor Justinian between 532 and 537 AD. The building, which was originally used as a church, was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul. Thus, a magnificent work emerged, reflecting the influence of both Christian and Muslim architecture.
In the garden of Hagia Sophia, which today is visited by millions of tourists, you can see the cannonballs used by Fatih Sultan Mehmet when he conquered Istanbul. There is also a historical fountain in the garden, built around the 18th century for ablution.
2. Basilica Cistern
Undoubtedly, the Basilica Cistern is one of the most fascinating pieces of art to have survived from the Eastern Roman Empire. Although this place looks like a palace with its imposing columns and mysterious atmosphere, it is actually an old water reservoir. The Basilica Cistern, built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian between 527 and 565 AD, held 80,000 tons of water.
According to written sources, he distributed water obtained from waterways and rain to the Grand Palace and surrounding buildings, satisfying the city’s water needs for hundreds of years. The Basilica Cistern, which has acquired a magnificent appearance after the last major restoration, is a gigantic structure with an area of about ten thousand square meters. The Basilica Cistern also hosts a light show that captivates visitors with its 336 marble columns, each 9 meters high.
3. Istanbul Mosaic Museum
The remains of the mosaic, discovered in the courtyard of the Grand Palace, are on display at the Istanbul Mosaic Museum, located near Sultanahmet Square. First discovered in 1933 and then fully excavated in the 1950s, mosaic floors were found right below today’s Arasta Bazaar. The Grand Palace mosaics that make up the museum date from 450-550 AD and depict daily life, hunting, and mythological scenes rather than religious figures.
4. Kariye Mosque
Chora Mosque, or the Church of the Holy Savior of Horus, with its former name, was the center of the monastery of Hoara during the Eastern Roman Empire. Although the exact date is unknown, some sources state that this structure was built in the 500s AD. The building, which was used as a church before the conquest of Istanbul, began to be used as a mosque about 50 years after the conquest. Although it was converted into a museum in 1948, it has been turned into a mosque again in 2020.
Chora is a world famous historical monument thanks to its well-preserved frescoes and mosaics. The building, typical of Byzantine architecture, looks simple from the outside, but inside is quite rich and colorful.
5. Yedikule Dungeons
The dungeons of Yedikule were built by Theodosius II in 500 AD. for a magnificent reception of guests from Rome. After the conquest of the city of Fatih, Sultan Mehmet added 3 more towers to the structure, which in the foreground had 4 towers. This place, which was used for various purposes such as the Treasury-i Humayun, an art house or a zoo, is remembered as the Yedikule Dungeons as it was used as a state prison for some time. Yedikule Underground, one of the oldest open-air museums in Turkey, has begun a massive restoration process in 2020. Currently, he continues to receive tourists for free.
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