The western districts of Istanbul: Fener and the Greek Patriarchate…

On Friday we had our usual day off, and since it was the first Friday for a few weeks that it wasn’t pouring rain, we decided to do some urban exploration.

We took a stroll along the Haliç (the Golden Horn) and visited the area where the Greek Patriarchate is, in Fener. We saw some sections of the old Byzantine walls that once surrounded the city. It was interesting to see how much the ground level has risen since the walls were build. We saw one of the old gates of the city, that was probably very near the water’s edge, but is now quite along way from the Haliç and is now very short after years of accumulation of silt and rubble and rubbish and whatever else.

We stopped at a kahvehane (coffee house) for some warm and delicious refreshment, because even though it wasn’t raining, it was pretty windy and a bit chilly. I wanted to go there because the other day I’d been talking to a friend about the old way of making Turkish coffee and this place seemed like it might serve it that way. As my friend had explained, say in her grandparents’ time, Turkish coffee was made on coals, which meant it cooked nice and slow, taking maybe 25 minutes to slowly foam and simmer. This makes a delicious cup of coffee that is smooth and foamy and almost creamy in texture. If you make Turkish coffee too quickly using too high a heat, you just get watery horrible stuff. Anyway, this comfy little cafe did in fact heat the coffee on hot coals, although it certainly didn’t take 25 minutes. But it was delicious and foamy and wonderful, just like I hoped. It was definitely a great place to stop.

Then we continued our wanderings into Fener. We walked along some very hilly cobbled streets, lined with old and slightly dingy, but colourful houses, some drapped with clothes lines and washing hanging out to dry or some bright flowers dangling from window boxes. This area used to be a predominantly Greek part of Istanbul, but now it is one of the most conservative Muslim areas, and I imagine pretty much all of the Greeks who used to live here are long gone. But this area is still home to the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, and this has been the location of the Patriarchate since 1601.

We saw a great big red brick Greek school/orphanage (no longer in use) perched up on a hill overlooking the many houses of Fener and the Haliç. We also saw the church of St Mary of the Mongols or Maria Mouchliotissa in Greek. This is still an operational Orthodox church, hidden away amidst the homes and tattered buildings of the area.

Apparently this Maria was a daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos who reigned in the 1200s. The emperor entered into an alliance with the Mongols, led by the great Khan Hulagu, who was favourably disposed towards Christians because a number of Mongols were Nestorian Christians. So, it was arranged that Maria would marry Hulagu. She arrived at the court of the Mongolian Khan only to discover that he had died. So, she married his son Abagu instead. Later, when Abagu was assassinated by his brother, Maria returned home to Byzantium and founded a church and convent dedicated to the Virgin of the Mongols. She became a nun and lived out her days in the convent.

Another interesting tidbit to go along with the church is that in Turkish it is called Kanlı Kilise, or the Church of Blood, because of the fierce and bloody fighting that took place here during the Ottoman conquest of the city.

It is also interesting because in Turkish the Greeks and their church are referred to as the Rum and Rum Ortodoks. So, basically they are called Romans, due to the fact that, after the centre of the empire shifted away from Rome itself, Constantinople was the centre of the Roman Empire until the 1600s when the Ottoman Turks took over the city. Kind of cool.

Anyway, probably due to our unscheduled coffee break, we actually got to the Patriarchate too late to actually go in and see it. We arrived about 5 minutes before closing time. It was a bit disappointing, but we’re planning to go again in a week or two to see it. I think we also have some more churches and mosques to see in the area, so their will be plenty to occupy us for a second visit!


5 thoughts on “The western districts of Istanbul: Fener and the Greek Patriarchate…

  1. I’m pretty sure I got lost in this area one day–very cool unexpected discovery. Do you remember where I lived on Sisli? If you go in the opposite direction from the Bosphorous, down a big hill, you’ll see a slum very reminscient of Mumbai. The hidden neighborhoods of Istanbul are endless.

    • It is such an interesting city to wander around in. I love the look of every place, even the strange run-down slum neighbourhoods. Even after a year, there is so much still to see and I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of it. Oh, and I have a proper email coming your way! I promise! I can’t wait for you to get that blog started! 🙂

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