BALAT AND FENER DISTRICT
It was kind of a coincidence that I ran into this church. Happy accident, given that it was ranked among the ten most beautiful churches in Turkey, and that its renovation works ended on January 7, 2018, so 1.5 weeks before I visited the city.
Churches are rare enough in Istanbul to attract the eye, especially the white and grey façades of this one. A rather sober exterior appearance, which does not predict anything from the inside, much more richly decorated. It’s like a jewel case containing the brilliance of a gold adornment.
No doubt, we are in an Orthodox church.
NOTE – The architecture of the church is neoclassical and neo-baroque.
But why a Bulgarian church in Istanbul?!
Let's remind that when the first Ottoman sultan arrived in the city, the communities were free to remain in the city and to practice their religion.
Istanbul was, moreover, much more cosmopolitan at the time than it is today, as the subjects may come from the whole empire, of which Bulgaria will be a part at the end of the 15th century. But it was in the 19th century that the Bulgarians emigrated strongly to Turkey, following the Second Balkan War, and the First World War.
A bulgarian senior Ottoman official then offered his property to this Bulgarian community to erect a chapel. On the edge of the Bosphorus, in the Golden Horn, the location is more than friendly. It will be called «Saint-Stephen» in homage to this generous donor, Stéphane Bogoridi (but dedicated to Saint-Etienne, patron saint of Bulgaria). It's still only a simple wooden church, later rebuilt in iron by an Armenian and an Austrian society, and enriched by Russia to which one owes the interior.
Today, the descendants of the ancient Bulgarian community in Istanbul are so few (some 1,000 souls) and integrated, that they no longer even recognize themselves as forming a community. But regardless, Turkey and Bulgaria have helped to restore the orthodox “iron church” (the only one in the world) for 6 years and for the modest sum of 3.3 million euros; the “proof” of Erdogan’s goodwill in the peaceful coexistence between religious communities in Turkey (entry into the U.E in sight).
The church reopened on January 7, 2018 (Orthodox Christmas Day), giving rise to a ceremony in traditional costumes.
For the moment, it's mostly visited by tourists.