Istanbul’s Smallest Church?

  • February 8th, 2012


    Despite not being religious, I have, nevertheless, a deep fascination which borders on reverence for places of worship. There’s something about them, an energy, a vibration — call it what you will — that’s special. That’s why I was intrigued when a good friend told me about a rooftop Russian Orthdox church in Karaköy.


    Istanbul received plenty of Russian émigrés fleeing the troubles of their home around the turn of the 20th century. They were poor and lived in cramped conditions, yet despite their deprivations managed to scrape enough together to build a rooftop church, Aya Panteleymon.


    I wish I’d had more time to take several more shots, but I felt somewhat pressed by the large Russian priest who allowed me to venture into this sanctum. There was a handwritten note affixed to the door of the church with a phone number, and after climbing the stairs to the sixth floor I was somewhat out of breath as I punched the number. He spoke neither English nor Turkish, but somehow understood what I wanted. When he appeared a few minutes later from below, I must admit he intimidated me. Formidably barrel-chested in long brown vestments, a tall hat and some serious looking work boots, I felt every bit the heathen that I am facing him. Then I made the mistake of stepping into his holy chapel without removing my hat, which he promptly snatched from my head. Forgive me, Father …

    Anyway, I feel blessed to have even a couple of shots to share with you. It seemed at first he wouldn’t let me in at all. When he asked with a frown if I was Orthodox, I simply replied, not wanting to lie, that I was sent by a friend. When I raised the camera, and asked him if I could take pictures, he shook his head. Then when I put the camera down, and bowed my head, he handed me back my camera. I was allowed enough time to take a few shots, before his cough told me it was time to go.

    If you have the chance, please visit Aya Panteleymon. It’s worth a look.




  • muratkazdal 02.08.2012  

    I really like the first photo and your story, but I have to add some historical info that can lead you to write and document more for us.
    These “han” churches(yes, they were/are more than 5) were built before The Russian Revolution, and before that Russian refugees period. They were built for the pilgrims with Ottoman permission and Russian finance. The building type was probably chosen for accommodation and social purposes. Now, your turn…

  • I.A.W.  

    Thanks for writing in, Murat, I’m pleased you could add more detail to the story. If you have any more resources regarding these churches and their history you’d like to share I’d be pleased to add to the story.

  • Ummu  

    пишет:I like this idea. I visited your website for the first time and simply been your fan. Continue to keep writing as I am planning to come to read it daily!!

  • Patrick  

    Absolutely fascinating the world of the Russian Orthodox churches in Karakoy. Do check out “Heaven on High” in the December 2011 Issue of ‘World of Interiors’ and

  • I.A.W.  

    Thank you, Patrick. I will look out for that. Best, Innes.


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