Essential Architecture-  Turkey

The Gastria, Sanjakdar Mesjedi




Istanbul, Turkey






Brick, originally tile roof, later lead roof.


Present-day Mosque, former Church



This mosque is situated in the quarter of Psamathia, at a short distance to the north of the Armenian church of S. George (Soulou Monastir), which stands on the site of the Byzantine church of S. Mary Peribleptos. Paspates, 464 who first recognized the Byzantine character of the edifice, regards it as the chapel attached to the convent of the Gastria (Μονὴ τῶν Γαστρίων, τὰ Γάστρια, i.e. in the district of the Flower-pots). His reasons for that opinion are: first, the building is situated in the district of Psamathia, where the convent of the Gastria stood; secondly, it is in the neighbourhood of the Studion, with which the convent of the Gastria was closely associated during the iconoclastic controversy; thirdly, the copious and perennial stream of water that flows through the grounds below the mosque would favour the existence of a flower-garden in this part of the city, and thus give occasion for the bestowal of the name Gastria upon the locality. The argument is by no means conclusive. A more fanciful explanation of the name of the district is given by Byzantine etymologists after their wont. According to them the name was due to the circumstance that the Empress Helena, upon her return from Jerusalem with her great discovery of the Holy Cross, disembarked at Psamathia, and having founded a convent there, adorned its garden with the pots (τὰ γάστρια) of fragrant shrubs which accompanied the sacred tree on the voyage from Palestine. 465 More sober historians ascribe the foundation of the convent to Euphrosyne, the step-mother of the Emperor Theophilus, 466 or to his mother-in-law Theoctista. 467 Both ladies, it is certain, were interested in the House, the former taking the veil there, 468 while the latter resided in the immediate neighbourhood. 469 Probably the convent was indebted to both those pious women for benefactions, and it was unquestionably in their day that the monastery acquired its greatest fame as the centre of female influence in support of the cause of eikons. Theoctista was especially active in that cause, and through her connection with the court not only strengthened the opposition to the policy of her son-in-law, but also disturbed the domestic peace of the imperial family. Whenever the daughters of Theophilus visited her she took the opportunity to condemn their father's views, and would press her eikons on the girls' lips for adoration. One day, after such a visit, Pulcheria, the youngest princess, a mere child, in giving an account of what had transpired, innocently told her father that she had seen and kissed some very beautiful dolls at her grandmother's house. Whereupon Theophilus, suspecting the real facts, forbade his daughter to visit Theoctista again. On another occasion the court fool, Denderis, surprised the Empress Theodora in her private chamber kissing eikons and placing them over her eyes. 'What are these things?' he inquired. 'My beautiful dolls which I love,' she replied. Not long afterwards the jester was summoned to amuse Theophilus while sitting at table. 'What is the latest news?' asked the emperor. 'When I last visited "mamma" (the jester's familiar name for the empress) I saw most beautiful dolls in her room.' Instantly the emperor rose, beside himself with rage, and rushing to his wife's apartments violently denounced her as a heathen and idolater. 'Not at all,' answered Theodora, in her softest accents, 'that fool of yours saw me and my maidens looking into a mirror and mistook the faces reflected there for dolls.' The emperor did not press the case, but a few days later the servants of Theodora caught Denderis and gave him a sound thrashing for telling tales, dismissing him with the advice to let dolls alone in the future. In consequence of this experience, whenever the jester was afterwards asked whether he had seen his 'mamma's' dolls recently, he put one hand to his mouth and the other far down his back and whispered, 'Don't speak to me about dolls.' 470 Such were the pleasantries that relieved the stern warfare against eikons.



Gastria (Sanjakar Mesjedi). East End.

Gastria (Sanjakar Mesjedi).
East End.

Gastria (Sanjakar Mesjedi). The Entrance.

Gastria (Sanjakar Mesjedi).
The Entrance.



On the occasion of the breach between Theodora and her son Michael III., on account of the murder of her friend and counsellor Theoctistos at Michael's order, she and her four daughters, Thekla, Anastasia, Anna, and Pulcheria, were confined in the Gastria, and there, with the exception of Anna, they were eventually buried. 471 At the Gastria were shown also the tombs of Theoctista, her son Petronas, Irene the daughter of Bardas, and a small chest containing the lower jaw of Bardas 472 himself. It is this connection with the family of Theophilus, in life and in death, that lends chief interest to the Gastria.


Architectural Features

Although the building is now almost a complete ruin, it still preserves some architectural interest. On the exterior it is an octagonal structure, with a large arch on each side rising to the cornice, and thus presents a strong likeness to the Byzantine building known as Sheik Suleiman Mesjedi, near the Pantokrator (p. 25). The northern, southern, and western arches are pierced by windows. The entrance is in the western arch. The interior presents the form of an equal-armed cross, the arms being deep recesses covered with semicircular vaults. The dome over the central area has fallen in. The apse, semicircular within and showing five sides on the exterior, is attached to the eastern arm. Its three central sides are occupied by a triple-shafted window. Two shallow niches represent the usual apsidal chambers. A similar niche is found also on both sides of the entrance and on the eastern side of the northern arm of the cross. In the wall to the west of the southern arch is a small chamber. The joint between the apse and the body of the building is straight, with no bond in the masonry; nor is the masonry of the two parts of the same character. In the former it is in alternate courses of brick and stone, while in the latter we find many brick courses and only an occasional stone band. Evidently the apse is a later addition. In view of these facts, the probable conclusion is that the building was originally not a church but a library, and that it was transformed into a church at some subsequent period in its history to meet some special demand.


Gastria (Sanjakar Mesjedi). From the west.

Gastria (Sanjakar Mesjedi).
From the west.

>Gastria (Sanjakar Mesjedi). The Interior.

Gastria (Sanjakar Mesjedi).
The Interior.

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.