Zeyrek Mosque, Molla Zeyrek Camii

Molla Zeyrek Camii, Zeyrek Mosque

Molla Zeyrek Camii, Zeyrek Mosque

taken by Pentax K10D, at Istanbul

Zeyrek Mosque
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

(full name in Turkish: Molla Zeyrek Camii), is a mosque in Istanbul, made of two former Eastern Orthodox churches. It represents the most typical example of architecture of the Byzantine middle period in Constantinople and is – after Hagia Sophia – the second largest religious edifice built by the Byzantines still extant in Istanbul.


The complex is placed in the district of Fatih, in a popular neighborhood which got its name (Zeyrek) from the Mosque, and less than one km to the southeast of Eski Imaret Mosque. It is pictoresque but (as in 2007) decayed and dangerous in the night hours.


Between 1118 and 1124 Byzantine Empress Eirene Komnena built on this site a friary dedicated to Christ Pantokrator.[1] The monastery comprised a main church, also dedicated to the Pantokrator, a library and a Hospital.[2]

After the death of his wife, shortly after 1124, Emperor John II Komnenos built to the north of the first another church dedicated to the Theotokos Eleousa (“the merciful”), and finally (the terminus ante quem is 1136 [3]) connected the two shrines with a chapel (dedicated to Saint Michael [4]), which became the imperial mausoleum (heroon) of the dinasties of the Komnenos and the Palaiologos.[1] Besides many Byzantine dignitaries, Emperor John II and his wife Eirene, Empress Bertha of Sulzbach (also known as Eirene, and wife of Manuel I Komnenos), and Emperor John V Palaiologos were buried here.[2]

During the latin domination after the fourth crusade, the complex was the see of the venetian clergy, and here was hosted the Icon of the Theotokos Hodegetria. [5] The monastery was also used as imperial palace by the last Latin Emperor, Baldwin. After the palaiologan restoration the monastery was used again by orthodox monks. The most famous among them was Gennadius II Scholarius, which left the Pantokrator to become the first Patriarch of Constantinople after the Conquest of the city. [6]

Shortly after the Fall of Constantinople the building was converted into a mosque. The Ottomans named it after Molla Zeyrek, a scholar who was teaching in the nearby Medrese. [7] The Medrese occupied the rooms of the monastery, but these rooms vanished later. [2]

Up to some years ago the edifice was in a desolate state, so that it was added to the UNESCO Watchlist of the endangered monuments. During the last years it underwent extensive (albeit still unfinished) restoration, financed by the Koç Holding.

Today Zeyrek Mosque is – after Hagia Sophia – the second largest extant religious edifice built by the Byzantines in Istanbul.

To the East lies the Ottoman Konak (Zeyrek Hane), which has also been restored and is now opened as a restaurant and tea garden.

The apsis of the Imperial Chapel (in background), built with the technique of the recessed brick
The apsis of the Imperial Chapel (in background), built with the technique of the recessed brick

The masonry has been partly built adopting the technique of the recessed brick, typical of the Byzantine architecture of the middle period [8]. In this technique, alternate courses of bricks are mounted behind the line of the wall, and are plunged in a mortar’s bed. Due to that, the thickness of the mortar layers is about three times greater than that of the bricks layers. [9]

The south and the north church are both cross domed with polygonal apses having seven sides, and not five as was typical in the Byzantine architecture of the previous century. The apses have also triple lancet windows flanked by niches [1].

The southern church is the largest. To the East it has an esonarthex, which later was extended up to the imperial chapel. The church is surmounted by two domes, one over the naos and the other over the matroneum (a separate upper gallery for women) of the narthex. The decoration of this church, which was very rich, disappeared almost completely, except for some fragment of marble in the presbyterium and, above all, a beautiful floor in opus sectile made with colored marbles worked in cloisonné technique, where human and animal figures are represented [10]. Moreover, fragments of colored glass suggest that the windows of this church were once covered with windowpanes bearing figures of Saints [11].

The imperial chapel is covered by barrel vaults and is surmounted by two domes too.

The north church has only one dome, and is notable for its frieze, carved with a dog’s tooth and triangle motif running along the eaves line.

As a whole, this complex represents the most typical example of architecture of the Byzantine middle period in Constantinople [1].


1. ^ a b c d Krautheimer, 409
2. ^ a b c Gülersoy, 213
3. ^ In that year was published the Typikon, which still survives. This document gives us a vivid portrait of the organization of the monastery and of the ceremonies which were celebrated in the church. Mathews, 71
4. ^ Mathews, 71
5. ^ Van Millingen
6. ^ Van Millingen
7. ^ However, due to its importance in the Byzantine history, Zeyrek was one among the few buildings of Istanbul whose ancient denomination was never forgotten. Among other, the church of Pantokrator is remembered by Pierre Gilles in his classical work about Constantinople, written in the sixteenth century.
8. ^ Krautheimer, 400. Other examples of edifices of Constantinople where this technique was used are the mosques of Zeyrek and Eski Imaret
9. ^ The oldest building still extant in Istanbul where this technique can still be seen is the mosque of Eski Imaret, which lies less than one km to the northwest of Zeyrek
10. ^ It is now hidden under the carpet of the Mosque, but can be shown upon request
11. ^ Krautheimer, 410


* Van Millingen, Alexander (1912). Byzantine Churches of Constantinople. London: MacMillan & Co.

* Mathews, Thomas F. (1976). The Byzantine Churches of Istanbul: A Photographic Survey. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. ISBN 0-271-01210-2.

* Gülersoy, Celik (1976). A guide to Istanbul. Istanbul: Kitapligi. OCLC 3849706.

* Krautheimer, Richard (1986). Architettura paleocristiana e bizantina. Turin: Einaudi. ISBN 88-06-59261-0.

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