Essential Architecture-  Turkey

Monastir Mesjedi




Istanbul, Turkey






Brick, originally tile roof, later lead roof.


Present-day Mosque, former Church



At a short distance within Top Kapoussi (Gate of S. Romanus) that pierces the landward walls of the city, and a little to the south of the street leading to that entrance, in the quarter of Tash Mektep, Mustapha Tchaoush, stands a lonely Byzantine chapel which now goes by the name Monastir Mesjedi, the Chapel of the Monastery. Its present designation tells us all that is certain in regard to the history of the edifice; it was originally a chapel attached to a Christian monastery, and after the Turkish conquest became a Moslem place of worshp. Paspates 453 is disposed to identify the building with the chapel of the Theotokos erected in this vicinity, in the thirteenth or fourteenth century, by Phocas Maroules 454 on the site of the ancient church dedicated to the three martyr sisters Menodora, Metrodora, and Nymphodora. 455 The chapel built by Maroules in fact belonged to a convent, and owing to its comparatively recent date might well be standing to this day. But the evidence in favour of the proposed identification is slight. In a city crowded with sanctuaries more than one small chapel could be situated near the gate of S. Romanus. An old font, turned upside down and made to serve as a well-head by having its bottom knocked out, lies on a vacant lot on the same side of the street as Monastir Mesjedi, but nearer the gate of 263 S. Romanus, and seems to mark the site of another sanctuary. So likewise do the four columns crowned with ancient capitals which form the porch of the mosque Kurkju Jamissi, on the north side of the street.


The Cistern of Aetius.

The Cistern of Aetius.
With the kind permission of Sir Benjamin Stone.


Phocas Maroules was domestic of the imperial table under Andronicus II. Palaeologus (1282-1328). He appears also as the commander of the guards on the city walls that screened the palace of Blachernae, when Andronicus III. Palaeologus, accompanied by John Cantacuzene, the protostrator Synadenus, and an escort of thirty soldiers, stood before the gate of Gyrolimné to parley with the elder emperor. The domestic was the bearer of the messages exchanged between the imperial relatives on that occasion. It was a thankless task. But what troubled the mind of Maroules most was how to avoid giving offence to both sovereigns and succeed in serving two masters. To salute the grandson as became his rank and pretensions would incur the grandfather's displeasure; to treat rudely the young prince, who had come on a friendly errand, and addressed the domestic in gracious terms, was an impropriety which the reputation of Maroules as a paragon of politeness would not allow him to commit. Furthermore, fortune being fickle, he felt bound as a prudent man to consult her caprices. Accordingly, allowing less discreet officials beside him to insult the younger emperor as much as they pleased, he himself refrained both from all taunts and from all courteous speech. In response to the greetings of Andronicus III. he said nothing, but at the same time made a respectful bow, thus maintaining his good manners and yet guarding his interests whatever turn the dispute between the two emperors might take. John Cantacuzene, a kindred spirit, extols the behaviour of Maroules in this dilemma as beyond all praise.

After the death of Maroules his widow and son attempted to turn the convent into a monastery. But the patriarchal court, before which the case came in 1341, decided in favour of the claims of the nuns, on the principle that the intention of the founder should in such matters be always respected. Hence convents were not allowed to be changed into monasteries, nor monasteries into convents.


Architectural Features

The building is a small oblong hall roofed in wood, and terminates at its eastern end in three semicircular apses. It is divided into two unequal compartments by a triple arcade placed near the western end. The side apses are shallow recesses, scarcely separated from the central apse, and show three sides on the exterior. The central apse projects six sides, and is now lighted by a large Turkish window. The western compartment, forming the narthex, is in three bays covered with cross-groined vaults. The cushion capitals on the columns of the arcade are decorated, on the east and west, with a rudely cut leaf; and on the north and south with a cross in a circle. Along the exterior of the south wall are traces of a string-course, of a cloister, and of a door leading to the western compartment. On the same wall Paspates 458 saw, as late as 1877, eikons painted in fresco. The western entrance stands between two pilasters, and near it is an upright shaft, buried for the most part in the ground, probably the vestige of a narthex. In the drawing of the church given by Paspates, 459 three additional shafts are shown beside the building.

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.