OLD HOUSES OF ZEYREK AND CHURCH OF CHRIST THE PANTOCRATOR
During my middle school years at the Sankt George High School in Istanbul I had an art teacher named Herr Jorda. He was an Austrian who cherished the Ottoman heritage of Istanbul and tried to preserve old Istanbul with the projects he assigned us as homework. These homeworks often included the building of miniature wooden Istanbul houses, painting scenes of an old street, a fish market or a poor street beggar. He would often mention that one day in Istanbul all of these old houses will be history and the only remaining proof of their beauty would be pictures and paintings.
Herr Jorda was right. Today, there are only very few of these old houses are left in Istanbul. Few of the fortunate ones have been restored, but the vast majority are in a desperate shape, waiting for a final blow; perhaps a strong wind or a fire to cease their existence.
The most typical of these neglected areas where once the most beautiful row houses of Istanbul existed is a district called “Zeyrek”. Zeyrek is near one of the major landmarks of Istanbul : the Aqueduct of Valens in the Saraçhane district. During the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman times, the water was distributed to the old city through these one kilometer long walls of the aqueduct. Today the busy traffic on the Atatürk Boulevard goes through the arches of the aqueduct's fifty meter span which is still in tact.
OLD HOUSE AND ZEYREK MOSQUE
Going down the hill from the Valens Aqueduct to the Golden Horn, Zeyrek is situated on the left up on the fourth hill of Istanbul. And what a hill it is! As the Turkish saying goes:
Serçeden başka kuş,
Zeyrek ten baska yokuş
Which rhymes and roughly translates :
I don’t know any bird but sparrow ,
and don’t know any hill but Zeyrek
The hill is real steep and consists of stairs connecting different levels of streets together, in some cases connecting back of the houses to the street and the front porch to another street below. The hundred fifty to two hundred year old wooden houses with their closed balcony like extensions called “cumbo” are still trying to hold their ground in a desperate last effort. These randomly spread old houses stretch from the Çırçır district all the way to the Golden Horn, their small backyards facing the spectacular view of the Horn. A few minutes of climbing through the cobblestone streets and stairs will take you to the historic landmark of this area; The Church of Christ Pantocrator* or the Molla Zeyrek Mosque.
The Zeyrek complex is the second largest religious edifice in Istanbul after Hagia Sophia. The first building of the complex was erected by the Byzantine Empress Eirene Komnene between the years of 1118 and 1124 as a monastery and was dedicated to Christ Pantocrator The monastery complex included a hospital and a library. A year after the empress’s death the monastery was built. Later , her husband Emperor John II Komnenos build a church in her memory near the monastery and dedicated it to Theotokos Eleusa **. In 1136 the Emperor built a third chapel connecting the monastery and the church together. This last one was dedicated to Saint Michael.
After his parents death Emperor Kemensos I. brought the so called Stone of Unction from Ephesus to the church grounds. It is believed that Christ‘s body was laid to rest on this marble slab before it's entombment. In 1204 the Venetian Crusaders sacked and stripped Constantinople of her of many prized possessions like the famous quartet of bronze horses, valuable icons ,manuscripts, gold and silver, historical relics, statues and shipped them to the Church of St Marco in Venice. Later during the Paleogene period the Church of Pantokrator was the center of opposition of of unification efforts of the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. Both Emperor John Komnenos II. and Empress Eirene as well as Emperor Manuel Komnenos I. and his wife Empress Bertha of Sulzbach (Eirene***) and Emperor John V Palaiologos were buried here in the chapel.
After the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453 the church was converted to a mosque and the monastery to a medrese****. Molla Zeyrek, a scholar and student of Haci Bayram Veli was appointed as the superior of the complex and apparently the name Zeyrek was adapted by the locals as the name of the religious complex.
Today part of the old church is used as mosque and the whole complex is on the watch list of UNESCO under the list of endangered historical buildings and going through an extensive restoration.Zeyrek is a must see neighborhood for all people who are interested in history, religion and Istanbul.
*** Greek name given to foreign born Empress’s .
*** An Ottoman school were math and science was thought