A Tour Of Istanbul’s Architectural Landmarks

Bulgarian St. Stephen Church
Bulgarian St. Stephen Church | © Darwinek/Wikimedia Commons
Feride Yalav-Heckeroth

Istanbul is a city rife with architectural landmarks, most notably its most popular sights in Sultanahmet, the heart of the city’s touristic traffic. However, the city’s other neighborhoods are also strewn with the remnants of past empires as well as the many different cultures and religions that made Istanbul a multi-ethnic city. The Balat and Fener neighborhoods have been receiving a lot of attention lately not only because of the colorful and ornate houses belonging to the bourgeoisie Greek Orthodox families that used to reside here, but also because of the hidden churches, mosques, and hamams. Let’s take an architectural tour of Fener and Balat…

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople

Since 1600, this historic structure has been the official seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople (or the spiritual leader of the 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide). The structure’s main church, the Church of St. George, dates back to the mid 19th century and has a neo-classical influence, making it distinct from the Orthodox churches in the Byzantine style.

Church of St. George

Phanar Greek Orthodox College

One of the oldest surviving Greek Orthodox schools in Istanbul, the Phanar Greek Orthodox College was designed by Ottoman Greek architect Konstantinos Dimadis and was erected between 1881 and 1883. At a cost of around 17,000 Ottoman gold pounds, quite a large sum at the time, the building has a castle-like shape with a dome used for astronomy classes and is outfitted entirely with a castellated red brick façade.

Phanar Greek Orthodox College

Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosque

This imperial mosque is located right on Istanbul’s fifth hill overlooking a beautiful view of the city from the Golden Horn onward. Dedicated to the memory of Selim I, his son Suleiman the Magnificent commissioned the religious edifice in the 16th century to the architect Alaüddin (Acem Alisi). The large courtyard has a colonnaded portico with columns composed of marble and granite, while the mosque itself is decorated with early examples of the famous handmade İznik tiles.

Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosque

Bulgarian St. Stephen Church

This Bulgarian Orthodox Church is famous for being one of the world’s few surviving churches composed of prefabricated cast iron elements. Richly ornamented with a three domed and cross-shaped basilica, the church was first made of wood in 1849. When the original structure was damaged in a large fire, it was rebuilt with an iron frame planned by Hovsep Aznavur, an Armenian from Istanbul. When a competition was held to produce the church’s prefabricated parts, the Austrian company, R. Ph. Waagner won and the parts, weighing around 500 tons, were produced in Vienna between 1893 and 1896 and transported to Istanbul. By 1898, the church was completed and continues to exude its Neo-Gothic and Neo-Baroque style.

Bulgarian St. Stephen Church

Küçük Mustafa Paşa Hamamı

One of Istanbul’s oldest hamams, the Küçük Mustafa Paşa Hamamı was built in 1477 on the orders of chief cleric Molla Hüsrev during the reign of Fatih Sultan Mehmet. Covering an area of 1,900 square meters, the historic structure features early hamam architecture such as pointed arches with muqarnas (ornamented vaulting in a geometric shape), domes with holes for both sunlight and ventilation, and tassellation flooring. In the 1900s the hamam ceased being used as a bathhouse and has been restored to become a center for exhibitions and events.

Turkish bath roof

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

Edit article