The 10 Most Beautiful Churches in Istanbul

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Written By Louisa Smith

Co-Founder of The Turkey Traveler. Globetrotter, Adventurer, and Frequent Traveler to Turkey!

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Istanbul is most well known for its islamic religious sites, such as The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, but there are actually many beautiful churches in Istanbul that are worthy of a visit, too!

What makes Istanbul unique is how it fuses together a myriad of cultures and religions. Christianity, although not the dominant religion, has left a distinct imprint on the city since the days of Constantinople, when Eastern Orthodox Christianity was the main religion.

Today, you can stumble upon some awe-inspiring Christian churches that have survived from as far back as the Byzantine era, as well as newer Istanbul churches for the small community of Orthodox Christians living in the city.

Whether you’re looking to learn more about the Christian community or are just interested in historic and beautiful architecture, be sure to visit the following churches while in Istanbul.

Planning a trip to Istanbul last-minute?

Make sure you book your tours, places to stay, and airport transfers ahead of time to ensure availability!

Here is our recommended airport transfer in Istanbul:

  1. Airport Shuttle From Istanbul Airport (IST) or Sabiha Gocken International Airport (SAW) (Super affordable!)

Here are our recommended tours in Istanbul:

  1. Luxury Bosphorus Cruise At Sunset (A must-do In Istanbul)
  2. Whirling Dervishes Show (Unique experience!)
  3. Historical Turkish Bath Experience
  4. Istanbul Food And Culture Tour

Here are our recommended places to stay in Istanbul:

  1. Magnuara Palace Hotel (Gorgeous hotel in the historic centre!)
  2. Pera Palace Hotel
  3. Cheers Hostel (Budget hostel near the Blue Mosque!)

The Most Beautiful Churches in Istanbul

1. Venerable Patriarchal Church of Saint George

Venerable Patriarchal Church of Saint George
Venerable Patriarchal Church of Saint George

The Venerable Patriarchal Church of Saint George is located in the Fener district, the center of old Constantinople. This is the principal Greek Orthodox cathedral in Istanbul, and has been the spiritual hub of Eastern Orthodoxy since it was built in the 1600s, during the height of Constantinople.

The church has been renovated and changed many times over the years, but it still stands as an architectural marvel boasting Byzantine mosaics and religious relics on the inside, and neo-classical, 19th century architecture on the outside.

As you step inside, the tranquil ambiance envelops you immediately. The intricate artwork adorning the walls hints at the grandeur of the Byzantine era, inviting you to delve deeper into its historical narrative.

As you walk up to the alter, cast your eyes towards the Saint Peter’s Gate at the Patriarchate. It’s said that in 1821, Patriarch Gregory V was hung in full robes after being blamed by Sultan Mahmud II for not suppressing the Greek War of Independence. Legend has it that the Gate has not been opened since.

Some other important pieces found in the church are the patriarchal throne that dates back to the 5th century, rare mosaic icons of Saints Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom, and bones of Gregory the Theologian and John Chrysostom, which were stolen from Constantinople in 1204 and returned in 2004 by Pope John Paul II.

📚Related Reading: Does Turkey Celebrate Christmas? A Guide to Xmas in Turkey

2. Bulgarian Saint Stephen’s Orthodox Church

St. Stephen’s Bulgarian Orthodox Church

An unexpected gem in Istanbul’s historic Balat district is the Bulgarian St. Stephen Church, known affectionately as the “Iron Church”. This Bulgarian Orthodox church, perched on the shores of the Golden Horn, boasts a unique distinction: it’s constructed entirely from cast iron.

The church was built and inaugurated in 1898, is an engineering marvel and a testament to the technological advancements of its time. Its 500 tons worth of pre-fabricated iron components were shipped from Vienna in Austria, and was built in a Neo-Byzantine style. The Iron Church stands as a symbol of Bulgarian cultural identity and religious autonomy, marking a significant chapter in the history of the Bulgarian community in Istanbul.

Step inside, and you’re greeted by an enchanting blend of Eastern Orthodox art and Victorian industrial design. The intricately painted icons and murals, set against the backdrop of iron walls, create a striking contrast that captures the church’s unique character.

The underwent a major renovation in 2011, costing 15 million Turkish Lira, and was reinaugerated in 2018, which was attended by the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov.

Visiting St. Stephen’s Church is like stepping into a time capsule, offering a glimpse into the past while standing as a beacon of resilience and innovation. From its cast-iron structure to its beautiful frescoes, every aspect of this iconic landmark in Istanbul tells a story of faith, culture, and ingenuity.

📚Read more: The Most Beautiful Places in Istanbul

3. St. Anthony of Padua Church

Outside of St. Anthony of Padua Church Istanbul
Inside of St. Anthony of Padua Church Istanbul

Tucked away in the heart of Istanbul’s bustling Istiklal Street, one of the most famous streets in Istanbul, lies a serene sanctuary, the St. Anthony of Padua Church, the largest functioning church in the city. This enchanting Neo-Gothic edifice is a haven of tranquillity amidst the city’s pulsating rhythm.

Built by Italian priests and completed in 1912, the church is an architectural marvel that proudly showcases its Roman Catholic heritage. It’s famous for its striking red-brick facade which stands in stark contrast to the surrounding Ottoman structures, instantly drawing the eye of passersby.

As you step inside, the grandeur of the church unfolds. The intricate stained-glass windows cast a kaleidoscope of colours, illuminating the ornate altar and the beautiful frescoes adorning the walls.

St. Anthony of Padua is not just a place of worship; it’s an emblem of Istanbul’s rich cultural tapestry. Masses are conducted in multiple languages, reflecting the city’s multicultural spirit. The church also shares a deep connection with Pope John XXIII, who had performed mass here during his tenure as the Vatican’s ambassador to Turkey.

4. Roman Catholic Church of Santa Maria Draperis

Roman Catholic Church of Santa Maria Draperis

The Roman Catholic Church of Santa Maria Draperis is one of the oldest Catholic parishes in the city and was established in 1584. The church’s current edifice, constructed in the 1880s, stands as an architectural tribute to the Gothic Revival style.

Santa Maria Draperis is not merely a place of worship; it’s a testament to resilience. Over the centuries, the church has been rebuilt multiple times due to fires, each reconstruction marking a new chapter in its enduring story.

Roman Catholic Church of Santa Maria Draperis

The church’s significance extends beyond its historical value as it continues to serve Istanbul’s Catholic community, with Masses conducted in Italian.

From the mesmerizing artwork on the arched ceiling, to the captivating tales of its past, every facet of this church paints a vibrant picture of Istanbul’s rich cultural tapestry.

5. Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church

Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church

In Istanbul’s bustling district of Beyoglu, you’ll find a sanctuary of Hagia Triada, the largest Greek Orthodox shrine in the city. This architectural marvel, erected in 1880, is more than just a place of worship.

Hagia Triada, meaning Holy Trinity, is a symbol of resilience and faith for the Greek community of Istanbul who continue to use it today. This church was the first domed Christian edifice allowed to be built in Istanbul following the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.

Inside you’ll find breathtaking Christian historical art. The church’s interior is a visual feast, showcasing stunning frescoes, intricate carvings, and a grand altar that commands attention. The majestic dome, a highlight of the church’s architecture, adds to its awe-inspiring aura.

6. Monastery of the Life-Giving Spring

Outside the bustling center of Istanbul is the Monastery of the Life-Giving Spring, or Zoödochos Pege in Turkish. This spiritual oasis is one of the most important Orthodox Christian pilgrimage sites in the city, and has been a beacon of faith and devotion for centuries.

Named after the many natural springs in the region, it is believed to have healing properties and draws pilgrims from around the world. This sacred spring, the hagiasma, which features underneath the monastery’s courtyard, has made the monastery famous over the centuries.

If you happen to be visiting Istanbul in April, on the first Friday after Easter, the church celebrates a festival known as the Spring of Healing, which is dedicated to the Mother of God, Theotokos. The event happens every year.

The current church, built in 1835, is the latest in a series of structures dedicated to the Theotokos, or Mother of God. Its Byzantine-inspired architecture captivates visitors with its intricate frescoes and ornate carvings. A standout feature is the stunning depiction of the Theotokos of Blachernae, lending a unique spiritual aura to the monastery.

There is a legend that Leon the Great walked in the forest of Constantinople, when he met a blind man asking for water, but he couldn’t find any. Then he heard the the Theotokos telling him that water is near and directed him to the forest where he stumbled upon the spring. It was believed after the blind man washed his face, he was able to see again.

After he became king, he built a church near the spring, which has been used for its healing properties ever since. It’s believed Emperor Justinian was healed from a severe illness from drinking the spring water.

Unfortunately, you cannot take photos of the monastery or the spring, but it’s well worth a visit regardless.

7. St. Mary’s Cathedral

St. Mary's Cathedral
St. Mary's Cathedral Istanbul window with light

St. Mary’s Cathedral in Istanbul, also known as St. Mary of Sakızağaç, is the main church of the Armenian Catholic Archeparchy of Istanbul. Established in 1830 by papal decree, it stands as a testament to the city’s rich multicultural and religious history.

The cathedral’s name, Sakızağaç, translates to “gum tree,” which is said to be derived from the numerous gum trees that once surrounded the structure. Today, it continues to be a vital hub for the Armenian Catholic community in Istanbul.

St. Mary's Cathedral Istanbul interior

St. Mary’s Cathedral contains stunning artwork, including lovely icons that some consider the best in Istanbul. The inside walls are adorned with beautiful frescoes, paintings, and intricately carved details, reflecting the artistic mastery of the era.

8. Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church

Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church Istanbul

In the heart of Istanbul, you’ll find a beacon of spiritual and historical significance – the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church, also known as Panagia Vefa. Tucked away in the bustling neighborhood of Fener, this church has been a sanctuary for Orthodox Christians since the 19th century.

Named after the Virgin Mary, the “Theotokos,” the church was built in 1804, following the Russo-Turkish War.

The interior of the church is a treasure trove of religious art. Ornate frescoes adorn its walls, depicting biblical scenes and figures in vivid detail. The church’s altar, an intricate piece of craftsmanship, adds to the sacred atmosphere.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church is its haghiasma, or holy spring. Believers from all faiths flock to the church on the first day of each month to make a wish at this revered site.

9. Crimean Memorial Church

Crimean Memorial Church interior

The Crimean Memorial Church, also known as Christ Church, is tucked away in the Beyoglu district of Istanbul. This Anglican church, built by G.E. Street, architect of London’s Law Courts, is a tribute to the British sailors and others involved in the Crimean War.

Established in 1856, the church stands as a symbol of peace and resilience, its history intertwined with one of the most significant wars of the 19th century.

The interior boasts beautiful stained glass windows and a magnificent altar, while the walls are adorned with plaques commemorating the fallen soldiers. These solemn reminders of the past add a profound depth to the spiritual experience.

10. Vosgeperan Armenian Catholic Church

Vosgeperan Armenian Catholic Church

In the bustling Taksim area of Istanbul, tucked away behind the French Consulate, lies the serene Surp Yerrortutyun Armenian Catholic Church, also known as Vosgeperan Ermeni Katolik Kilisesi. This church, a symbol of the Armenian Catholic community in Istanbul, forms a spiritual oasis amid the city’s urban chaos.

Established as an Armenian church within the Roman Catholic Church, Vosgeperan is a church that can accommodate up to 600 worshippers. It has even been graced by the presence of Pope John Paul II.

Upon entering, visitors are greeted by an octagonal dome, creating a sense of grandeur and reverence. From the chapels on the sides to the beautiful frescoes that grace its walls, every element adds to the church’s spiritual aura.

Map Of These Churches To Visit in Istanbul

FAQs About Churches in Istanbul

What is the famous Istanbul church?

The most famous church in Istanbul is the Hagia Sophia, which was originally built as a Christian church during Constantinople years, however it was turned into a museum and is now a mosque, and has much of its Christian artwork covered.

How many churches are there in Istanbul?

It’s estimated there are around 158 churches in Istanbul.

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, those are the most beautiful churches of Istanbul, and as you can see, there are some really impressive works of architecture and craftsmanship to see.

We hope this guide helped you pick a few churches to admire on your next trip! Do you have one you’re most excited to see? Let us know in the comments.

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