Iron Church in Istanbul- Shining like a Star

Iron Church in Istanbul- Shining like a Star

Bulgarian Iron Church- Introduction

We love to spend time in Cibali, Fener and Balat districts. We know this is old Istanbul, so it is crucial to understand the importance of these districts. And, Bulgarian Iron Church is one of our favorites places in this region.

So, this Bulgarian Orthodox Church is fully made of cast iron. This is why it is so famous. Moreover, it looks like there were more iron churches in the world, but some of them demolished and this church is one of the few survived churches. According to some sources, this is the only iron church standing at this moment!

It is also called as Stevi Stefan in Bulgarian which means Saint Stephen. You know, this church is dedicated to Saint Stephen who is one of the first deacons and the first Christian martyr.

Iron Church Exterior
The Bulgarian Iron Church

Bulgarian Iron Church- Information

Small, but stunning… These two words can be the best fit for this church. You don’t have to spend too much time and you can enjoy this modest church.

The restoration has been completed in 2018. Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality was the big player during this restoration, but Bulgaria also donated a small portion. The opening ceremony was a big one since both high-level diplomatic Turkish and Bulgarian representatives joined the event.

The garden is not bad, you can enjoy the view while sitting on the benches. There are a couple of tombs belonging to important people for this church. Regardless of the garden, you will spend most of your time inside of this church.

Basically, we believe that your religion is not important when you visit a city’s important monuments. Regardless of your religious view, we also believe that you will like this church history and design when you see it.

In summary, the church is in basilica form and represents neo-gothic and neo-baroque styles. There are three floors. There is an exhibition space (“sergi alani” in Turkish) on the basement. And, you can enjoy the other two floors which are ground floor and upper gallery.

Bulgarian Iron Church – History

Nationalism Waves

After the French Revolution, nationalism waves affected a lot of countries. Moreover, these waves really affected Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and Bulgarian people tried to find a way for worship in Bulgarian. As you are aware, normally Catholics use Latin and Orthodox use the Greek language. And, some of the nations wanted to use their own language like Bulgarians. But, Fener Greek Patriarchate was not willing to allow Bulgarians to use their own language and have a separate exarchate at the beginning.

Btw, this attempt can be said as a new, but Bulgaria also has a huge history around 1000 years. But after being captured by Byzantines and conquest by the Ottomans, Bulgaria had been connected to Fener Greek Patriarchate.

Important Moves by Stefan Bogoridi

Ok, we can start with Mr. Bogoridi. Stefan Bogoridi is an important figure of this church and there is a statue in the garden. Moreover, he was in the counsel of the Sultan and he wrote a letter to Sultan to explain the worship in Bulgarian and this request was accepted. He had a house where the current church was constructed. So, he moved to a new house and donated the plot.

Iron church- Stefan Bogoridi
Mr. Bogoridi’s Statue in the Garden

Beginning of the Exarchate

In 1850, they also constructed the building for priests. In 1870, the Bulgarian side left the Greek Patriarchate with Sultan Abdulaziz’s order. After this order, Bulgarian exarchate has officially started the process. Additionally, Bulgarian principality was founded after Ottomans lost a war against Russia which also affected this period.

The Iron Church

So, the old church was made of wood and fire demolished it. Famous Fossati brothers made a plan, however, the ground was too week due to being on the shore and the project was canceled [1]. And then, the exarchate opened a competition and Armenian architect Hovsep Aznavur won it with his plan [2]. The construction started in 1893 and the church was opened in 1898. [3]

Waagner- the famous Austrian company prepared a full of prefabricated church and tried before delivering to Istanbul. The church has been delivered with ships thru Danube River and transferred to the Black Sea and then passed the Bosphorus. So, the church is 500 tons only. The piles are very strong and made of wood. They are expanded in the water and show very good strength.

So, the latest restoration has been completed in 7 years. And there is no major change. Btw, have you noticed the two pieces on the ceiling? Please note that this was intentionally left as is.

Iron Church- before and after restoration
Before and after Restoration

What to See in Bulgarian Iron Church?

You can check the figures on the walls outside of the church. Just above the door, there is a sign representing the Trinity- father, son and the Holy Spirit, universe and sun.

Ground Floor

There are three floors inside of this church. When you enter the church, try to find out St. Stephen icon between the columns. As you know, St. Stephen had been stoned to death. So, St. Stephen carries a stone in this icon.

Iron Church- St. Stephen Icon
St. Stephen Icon at the Entrance

There are two candle holders or stands at the entrance. The first one is for wishing, however, the other one consists of the crucifix with a different style of the cross for remembering people gone. There are many stories about this candle ritual. But it can be said that people enter the church from the West and go to the East. East always represents the sunrise and people go from the shade into the sun (ex umbra in solem).

Before checking iconostasis (icon wall) which is made of wooden, you will notice two thrones having Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary’s icons. So, high level religious and diplomatic people use the thrones during rituals.

The Iconostasis

The iconostasis is a specific wall for the Orthodox churches. The backside of this wall can be used by priests or people having religious ranks. There are great icons on the iconostasis.

There is a big icon on the wall at the top. Virgin Mary, child Jesus are sitting on the throne and the other figures are Saints Cyril and Methodius. They were the “Apostles of the Slavs.”[4]

Right below, there is a small icon representing the Last Supper- the final meal that Jesus shared with his disciples.

Please check the fantastic door and Archangel Gabriel informing the Virgin Mary that God had chosen her to become the mother of Jesus Christ. On the left and right of the door, there are some icons about Virgin Mary, St. Stephen, Jesus Christ and St. John the Baptist.

The Icons on the Walls

Other than iconostasis, there are a couple of more icons on the walls. Two of them are about Saints Cyril, Methodius, and the Virgin Mary.

One of them is about St. George riding a white horse and dealing with a dragon. St. George was an important general in the military but he was ordered by Roman King to kill people choosing Christianity. He declined this order and was agonized and killed right after.

The other one is about St. Tryphon, Trifon or Triphon. He was again subjected to harsh tortures and he was condemned due to choosing and defending Christianity. [5, 6]

Second Floor

You will also notice that painted windows which make great ambiance by the sun. On the upper gallery, there are some benches you can sit and take a look at the church. It can be said that stairs look like symmetrical and they are connected with a short corridor. These are basically designated areas for women, but now man and woman can pray together. Moreover, there is a locked door going to the bell tower. These bells were donated by the tsar of Russia during the first opening. The biggest one is around 1 ton. [3]

Iron church- second floor
The View from Upper Gallery

Basement

The basement is also good that you can understand the church before restoration. You will observe a huge difference when you check before and after restoration photos. This is just amazing!!

Where is the Bulgarian Iron Church Located?

This is very close to Fener pier and Balat pier. If you necessarily need its address here it is.

The official address: Balat, Murselpasa Cd. No:10, 34087 Fatih/Istanbul

Bulgarian Iron Church – How Much Time?

Maximum 1 hour would be enough to understand every detail of this fantastic iron church. After that, you have a lot of options to do in this region. This is old Istanbul, try to enjoy every square of these historical Fener and Balat districts.

Bulgarian Iron Church Ticket Price / Entrance Fee

You know this is a church, there is no ticket but donations are welcomed. So, the museum pass question does not make any sense.

Bulgarian Iron Church Opening-Closing Days & Hours

The church is open every day. It is open between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Sundays, rituals are not frequent throughout the year.

How to Reach Bulgarian Iron Church?

There are many ways to reach the Bulgarian Iron Church. However, we will recommend our favorite way first which we already mentioned in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate post.

We are in love with the Bosphorus, this means that we will suggest a ferry trip 🙂 We mostly use Uskudar-Eyupsultan ferries to reach Fener pier. Moreover, Karakoy is also one of the stops. You can both use Fener or Balat piers. Right after, it is pretty easy to go there, only 5 minutes walking distance. During your ferry trip, you will definitely notice it since it is on the shore of Golden Horn.

From Uskudar

You can use the city lines ferries to go to Fener pier or Balat pier. Unfortunately, this line is not too frequent, just once in an hour.

From Karakoy/Eminonu

You can use Uskudar- Eyupsultan ferry from Karakoy. You know it is easy to come here from Galata Tower. Otherwise, there are some bus options too. You can prefer to catch 99, 99A, 99Y, 399B, 399C, 36CE from Eminonu main bus station. If you are visiting Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern or Topkapi Palace, Eminonu bus station would be better. You can still use the taxi option from Eminonu or Karakoy.

From Kadikoy

You can both try to reach Uskudar by bus or Marmaray or Karakoy/Eminonu by ferry. Simply follow the steps above.

From Dolmabahce Palace

Try to reach Eminonu or Karakoy by bus or T1 from Kabatas. After that, you know it is easy 🙂

From Airports

You should come to Eminonu or Kadikoy from Istanbul new airport or Sabiha Gokcen airport. Havaist and Havatas are great options.

What to Remember During Visit?

It is good to be respectful to other people since this is a temple. Taking photo is allowed inside of the church. Please note that there is one more St. Stephen Church in Bakirkoy/Istanbul but that is a catholic church. So, be careful when you search the location and check the location section in this post.

The timing is also important, try to be there during daylight. The region can be considered safe enough during the daytime, but be careful during the nighttime.

As a piece of seasonal information, spring and fall can be the best seasons since you can also enjoy Golden Horn with great weather. Check out our best time to visit Istanbul post to find out more.

There is a glass art center Camhane next to the church. You can also take a look. Do not forget to check Greek Orthodox Patriarchate close to this church and definitely arrange some time for Fener and Balat regions.

Conclusion

We are lost in other beauties in Istanbul, so we normally do not give due consideration to Fener and Balat. We don’t know the reason but we assume that the district looks like a little bit chaotic to people stayed in other regions.

But, this is old Istanbul. If you want to understand the importance of Istanbul, try to arrange some time around this cultural location.

About Bulgarian iron church, we can say the church is shining on the shore of Golden Horn. Restoration made this church great again. Even it is very important for Bulgarian people, we believe that every person visiting Istanbul should take a look at this fantastic church.

References

  1. https://istanbullife.com.tr/saro-dadyan/istanbulun-prefabrik-yapisi-sveti-stefan-kilisesi/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulgarian_St._Stephen_Church
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DL9cBHxZBAk
  4. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saints-Cyril-and-Methodius
  5. https://winetripping.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/saint-trifon-the-pruner-patron-saint-of-the-vinegrowers-and-winemakers/
  6. https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2019/02/01/100397-martyr-tryphon-of-lampsacus-near-apamea-in-syria
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