Essential Architecture-  Turkey

Saint Saviour Pantepoptes, Eski Imaret Mesjedi




Istanbul, Turkey


late 11th century




Brick, originally tile roof, later lead roof.


Present-day Mosque, former Church
View from the south-east, Küçük Mektepli Sokagi, Zeyrek.
The Monastery of Christ Pantepoptes, 'Christ the All-Seeing', was founded by Anna Delasenna, mother of Emperor Alexius I Comnenus, in the late 11th century, its church being converted into a mosque after the Ottoman Conquest. For a time one of the former monastery buildings was used as an imaret [soup kitchen], by which name the mosque is known today. The wall next to the pavement has now been replaced by railings, allowing more of the lower part of the structure to be seen.

Eski Imaret Camii (St. Saviour Pantepoptes 1085-90)

The cross-in-square design was adopted also in this church which was attached to a nunnery built by Anna Dalassena, mother of Emperor Alexius I Comnenos (1081-1118), to whom she was the closest advisor; her son gave her the title of Augusta which was reserved to the emperors' wives.

Constantine Cavafy dedicated a short poem to her:
In the royal decree that Alexios Komninos
put out specially to honour his mother -
the very intelligent Lady Anna Dalassini,
noteworthy in both her works and her manners -
much is said in praise of her.
Here I offer one phrase only,
a phrase that is beautiful, sublime:
She never uttered those cold words 'mine' or 'yours'.

The church is almost entirely surrounded by modern buildings. It was turned into a mosque by the Ottomans and the nunnery was used as an imaret (soup kitchen) for those who worked at the construction of nearby Fatih Camii, the mosque built by Sultan Mehmet II, the conqueror (fatih) of Constantinople. For this reason it was called the mosque of the old (eski) soup kitchen.
It was restored in 1970 and the dome was covered again with bricks (all the other domes of Istanbul are covered with lead). As usual in Byzantine buildings, the masonry is very elaborate; in particular the use of recessed bricks to add depth to curved lines.



The reasons which favour the identification of the mosque Eski Imaret Mesjedi, which is situated on the heights above Aya Kapou (Gate of S. Theodosia), with the church of S. Saviour Pantepoptes, the All-Seeing, are the following: first, the tradition to that effect, which in the case of a building so conspicuous can scarcely be mistaken; secondly, the correspondence of its position to that of the Pantepoptes, on a hill commanding an extensive view of the Golden Horn; and finally, the architectural features which mark it to be what the church of the Pantepoptes was, a building of the Comnenian period. The church of the Pantepoptes was founded or restored by Anna Dalassena, the mother of Alexius I. Comnenus (1081-1118), one of the most remarkable women in Byzantine history, combining to a rare degree domestic virtues with great political ambition and administrative ability. For twenty years she was associated with her son in the government of the Empire, and was the power behind the throne which he owed largely to her energy and devotion. About the year 1100 she laid aside the cares of state, and without renouncing altogether her royal style retired to rest in the monastery she had built, until her death, five years later, at an advanced age. There is nothing of special importance to record in the annals of the House. Its inmates were occasionally disturbed by the confinement among them of some dignitary who had offended the Government, or by the theological disputes that agitated the ecclesiastical circles of the capital. But for the most part life at Pantepoptes was quiet and peaceful. Only once does the monastery stand out conspicuous before the eyes of the world. When the Venetian ships under Henrico Dandolo, with the army of the Fourth Crusade on board, lined the shore of the Golden Horn from Ispigas and the church of S. Saviour the Benefactor to Blachernae (i.e. from Jubali Kapoussi to Aivan Serai) on Easter Monday, 12th April 1204, the Emperor Alexius Murtzuphlus established his headquarters beside the Pantepoptes. There he pitched  his vermilion tent, marshalled his best troops, and watched the operations of the enemy. And thence he fled when he saw the walls on the shore below him carried by storm, and Flemish knights mounted on horses, which had been landed from the hostile fleet, advancing to assault his position. So hurried was his flight that he left his tent standing, and under its shelter Count Baldwin of Flanders and Hainault slept away the fatigue of that day's victory. During the Latin occupation the church passed into the hands of the Venetians, and was robbed of many of its relics for the benefit of churches in the West. Upon the Turkish conquest it served for some time as an imaret or refectory for the students and teachers of the medressé, then in course of construction beside the great mosque of Sultan Mehemed. Hence its Turkish name. After serving that purpose it was converted into a mosque later in the reign of the conqueror.


S. Saviour Pantepoptes. The door leading from the outer to the inner Narthex.

S. Saviour Pantepoptes.
The Door Leading from the Outer to the Inner Narthex.
View looking north.

S. Saviour Pantepoptes. The Dome, looking west.

S. Saviour Pantepoptes.
The Dome, looking west.

Sketches from the Church.

Fig. 72.


Architectural Features


In plan the church belongs to the 'four column' type, and has two narthexes. The dome, placed on a drum, circular within and twelve-sided without, is carried on four piers which the Turks have reduced to an irregular octagonal form. It is divided into twelve bays by square ribs, and is lighted by twelve semicircular-headed windows. The cornice-string is adorned with a running leaf spray of a pleasing and uncommon design. The arms of the cross have barrel vaults, while the chambers at its angles are covered with cross-groined vaults. The apsidal chambers are small, with shallow niches on the north, south, and west, and a somewhat deeper niche on the east where the apse stands. These niches are carried up through a vaulting string-course, carved with a repeating leaf ornament, and combine with the groined vault above them to produce a charming canopy. The southern transept gable, though much built up, still displays the design which occurs so frequently in Byzantine churches, namely, three windows in the lunette of the arch (the central light rising higher than the sidelights), and three stilted arches below the vaulting string-course, resting on two columns and containing three windows which are carried down to a breastwork of carved marble slabs between the columns. The floor of the church is paved with square red bricks, except in the apses, where marble is employed. The gynecaeum, above the inner narthex, is divided into three bays separated by broad transverse arches. The central bay, which is larger than its companions, is covered with a dome vault, and looks into the body of the church through a fine triple arcade in the lunette of the western arm of the cross. The smaller bays are covered with cross-groined vaults. As elsewhere, the vaulting-string in the gynecaeum is decorated with carved work. The inner narthex, like the gynecaeum above it, is divided into three bays covered with cross-groined vaults, and communicates with the church, as usual, by three doors. Its walls seem to have been formerly revetted with marble. In the northern wall is a door, now closed, which gave access to a building beyond that side of the church. The exonarthex is also divided in three bays, separated by transverse arches, and communicates with the inner narthex by three doors and with the outer world by a single door situated in the central bay. That bay has a low dome without windows, while the lateral bays have groined vaults. Turkish repairs show in the pilasters and the pointed arches which support the original transverse arches. The doors throughout the building are framed in marble jambs and lintels, adorned in most cases with a running ornament and crosses. In the case of the doors of the exonarthex a red marble, brèche rouge, is employed, as in the exonarthex of the Pantokrator, another erection of the Comnenian period. On the exterior the building is much damaged, but nevertheless preserves traces of considerable elaboration. The walls are of brick, intermixed with courses of stone, and on the three sides of the central apse there are remains of patterned brickwork. On the buttresses to the southern wall are roundels with radiating voussoirs in stone and brick, and if one may judge from the fact that the string-course does not fit the face of the wall, parts of the exterior of the church were incrusted with marble. The round-headed windows of the dome cut into its cornice. Under the church is a cistern which Bondelmontius deemed worthy of mention. Until some twenty years ago extensive substructures were visible on the north-east of the church, affording homes for poor Greek families. They were probably the foundations of the lofty monastery buildings whose windows commanded the magnificent view of the Golden Horn that doubtless suggested the epithet Pantepoptes, under which the Saviour was worshipped in this sanctuary.


S. Saviour Pantepoptes. Exterior decoration in brick, on south side

S. Saviour Pantepoptes.
Exterior Decoration in Brick, on South Side

S. Mary Pammakaristos. Bracket at the south-east angle of the exterior wall of the Parecclesion.

S. Mary Pammakaristos.
Bracket at the South-east Angle of the Exterior Wall of the Parecclesion.

To face page 214.

S. Saviour Pantepoptes is the most carefully built of the later churches of Constantinople. The little irregularities of setting out so common in the other churches of the city are here almost entirely absent. This accuracy of building, the carving of the string-courses, and the remains of marble decoration both within and on the exterior, prove exceptional care.

 Plan of the Church—Longitudinal Section.

Fig. 73.

Details from the Church.

Fig. 74.

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.