Essential Architecture-  Turkey

The Myrelaion, Bodroum Jamissi




Istanbul, Turkey






Brick, originally tile roof, later lead roof.


Present-day Mosque, former Church
Bodrum Camii (Church of the Myrelaion monastery - Xth century)

Laleli is a neighbourhood of Istanbul with many shops selling clothing and leather goods; it is beloved by Russian tourists and it is full of Turkish vendors trying to speak Russian. In this very marketing oriented environment big apartment blocks surround a church which is a very interesting example of Byzantine architecture.
It was built in ca. 922 by Emperor Romanos I Lekapenos (919-44) as a family chapel. He was a co-emperor: he had persuaded his young son-in-law Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (912-59) to appoint him to such position and then also his two sons were appointed co-emperors. Sharing the same roof is often difficult and probably Constantine VII continued to behave in the imperial palace as if he were the only legitimate landlord. Romanos decided to build a separate palace for his family; there was an abandoned ancient rotunda which he covered with a ceiling supported by columns and above which he built a palace, a monastery and the church, the only part of the complex which survived fires, earthquakes and pillaging. It marks a move away from the basilica-like design of the VIth century churches and it is characterized by the introduction of a cross-in-square plan and by many curved lines. It is regarded as the prototype for most of the Orthodox churches. The definition "cross-in-square" means that a Greek cross is inscribed in a square building; the overall shape of the building is rectangular owing to the additions of a narthex on one side and of three small apses on the other.
Romanos thought he had ensured the future of his family (he had also appointed a third son Patriarch of Constantinople), but when he became very old his two co-emperor sons tried to exclude Constantine VII from the succession; the people of Constantinople revolted and all the Lekapenos ended their days in a monastery.


Bodrum Mosque or the Mesih Ali Pasa Camii, The Church of Myrelaion

This a small mosque in Laleli identified as a church which had been associated with the Convent of Myrelaion.Erected between 920 and 922, this monastic church had been buildt by Romanus 1 Lecapenus just beside his palace.Myrealion Orthodox church converted into a mosque by the governor Egyptian Mesih Ali Pasha ( 1501-2 ).This a small mosque in Laleli identified as a church which had been associated with the Convent of Myrelaion.Erected between 920 and 922, this monastic church had been buildt by Romanus 1 Lecapenus just beside his palace.



The identification of Bodroum Jamissi as the church attached to the monastery styled the Myrelaion rests upon the tradition current in the Greek community when Gyllius visited the city. According to that traveller, the church on the hill rising to the north of the eastern end of the gardens of Vlanga, the site of the ancient harbour of Theodosius, was known as the Myrelaion—'Supra locum hortorum Blanchae nuncupatorum, olim Portum Theodosianum continentium, extremam partem ad ortum solis pertinentem, clivus a Septentrione eminet, in quo est templum vulgo nominatum Myreleos. This agrees, so far, with the statement of the Anonymus of the eleventh century, that the Myrelaion stood on the side of the city looking towards the Sea of Marmora. There is no record of the date when the monastery was founded. But the House must have been in existence before the eighth century, for Constantine Copronymus (740-775), the bitter iconoclast, displayed his contempt for monks and all their ways by scattering the fraternity, and changing the fragrant name of the establishment, Myrelaion, the place of myrrh-oil, into the offensive designation, Psarelaion, the place of fish-oil. The monastery was restored by the Emperor Romanus I. Lecapenus (919-945), who devoted his residence in this district to that object. Hence the monastery was sometimes described as 'in the palace of the Myrelaion, and as 'the monastery of the Emperor Romanus. It was strictly speaking a convent, and became noteworthy for the distinguished rank of some of its inmates, and as the mausoleum in which the founder and many members of his family were laid to rest. Here Romanus II. sent his sister Agatha to take the veil, when he was obliged to dismiss her from the court to soothe the jealousy of his beautiful but wicked consort Theophano. Upon the abdication of Isaac Comnenus, his wife Aecatherina and her daughter Maria retired to the Myrelaion, and there learned that a crown may be a badge of slavery and the loss of it liberty.Here were buried Theodora, the wife of Romanus Lecapenus, in 923, and, eight years later, his beloved son Christopher, for whom he mourned, says the historian of the event, with a sorrow 'greater than the grievous mourning of the Egyptians.' Here also Helena, the daughter of Romanus Lecapenus, and wife of Constantine VII. Porphyrogenitus, was laid to rest, in 981, after an imposing funeral, in which the body was carried to the grave on a bier of gold adorned with pearls and other precious stones. To this monastery were transferred, from the monastery of S. Mamas, near the Gate of the Xylokerkou, the three sarcophagi, one of them a fine piece of work, containing the ashes of the Emperor Maurice and his children. And here also Romanus Lecapenus himself was interred in 948, his remains being brought from the island of Proté, where his unfilial sons, Stephen and Constantine, had obliged him to spend the last years of his life as a monk.


Myrelaion. The South Side.

The South Side.

Myrelaion. The Narthex, looking north.

The Narthex, looking north


Architectural Features


The building is on the 'four column' plan. The dome, placed on a circular drum, is supported on four piers, and divided into eight concave compartments, with windows in the alternate compartments. The arms of the cross, the chambers at the angles, and the bema are all covered with cross-groined vaults that spring, like those in the chapel of the Pammakaristos, from the vaulting level. The apsidal chambers have dome vaults, a niche on the east recessed in an arch to form the apse, and a niche both on the north and the south rising above the vaulting string-course. In the lowest division of the south wall stood originally a triple arcade with a door between the columns. The arcade has been built up, but the moulded jambs and cornices of the door, and the arch above it, now contracted into a window, still show on the exterior, while the columns appear within the church. Above the column string-course is a range of three windows, the central window being larger than its companions; higher up in the gable is a single light. The interior of the church has been much pulled about and cut away. The narthex is in three bays, separated by strong transverse arches, and terminates at either end in a high concave niche that shows on the outside. The central bay has a dome vault; the other bays have cross-groined vaults. The church had no gynecaeum, although Pulgher indicates one in his plan. A striking feature of the exterior are the large semicircular buttresses that show beyond the walls of the church—six on the south side, one on either side of the entrance on the west, and two on the east, supporting the apsidal chambers. In the last case, however, where entire buttresses would have been at once too large and too close together, the buttresses are only half semicircles. The apses project with three sides. The northern side of the church and the roof are modern, for the building suffered severely in 1784 from fire. The church stands on a platform, built over a small cistern, the roof of which is supported by four columns crowned by beautiful capitals. Hence the Turkish name of the mosque, Bodroum, signifying a subterranean hollow. Gyllius is mistaken in associating this church with the large underground cistern situated lower down the slope of the hill close to the bath Kyzlar Aghassi Hamam.


Myrelaion. The Interior, looking east.

The Interior, looking east.

Myrelaion. The south-west cross Angle.

The south-west cross Angle.

To face page 198.

Since the above was in print, the church has, unfortunately, been burnt in the great fire which destroyed a large part of Stamboul on the 23rd July 1912.




Gyllius (De top. C.P. iii. c. 8) places the Horreum, the statue of Maimas, the house of Craterus, the Modius, and the arch bearing the two bronze hands, after passing which a criminal on the way to punishment lost all hope of reprieve, near this church; basing that opinion on the statement of Suidas that these buildings stood near the Myrelaion. But there was a Myrelaion also (Codinus, De aed. p. 108) in the district in which the Shahzadé mosque is situated. The buildings above mentioned were near this second Myrelaion. On the other hand, the Chrysocamaron near the Myrelaion mentioned by Codinus (De signis, pp. 65-66) stood near the church under our consideration, for it was close to the church of S. Acacius in the Heptascalon. So also, doubtless, did the xenodocheion Myrelaion (Du Cange, iv. p. 160), possibly one of the many philanthropic institutions supported by Helena (Theoph. Cont. p. 458), the daughter of Romanus Lecapenus and wife of Constantine VII. Porphyrogenitus.

 Plan of the Church and Longitudinal Section.

Figs. 66 and 67

Text quoted from-
Byzantine Churches in Constantinople, Their History and Architecture.
MACMILLAN AND CO., Limited, London, 1912.
by Alexander Van Millingen and Ramsay Traquair and W. S. George and A. E. Henderson.