You will learn everything you wonder about Hagia Irene in our article. Hagia Irene. Where is Hagia Irene? How to Go Hagia Irene? Information about Hagia Irene.
Located in the same courtyard wall as Hagia Sophia in Sur-u Sultani, the outer courtyard of the Topkapı Palace, Hagia Irene is known as the oldest Christian place of worship in Istanbul.
Constantine the Great, Istanbul and Christianity
The building story of Hagia Irene begins in the time of Constantine I, the founder of the Eastern Empire, which went down in history as the Great Constantine. History is the beginning of the 4th century. Constantine makes Istanbul the capital of his empire. It gives the city the name “Nova Roma”, which means “New Rome”. The name “Constantinople”, one of the best known names in Istanbul, is given after the death of the emperor and means “the city of Constantine”.
One of the most important reasons why Constantine got the title of “Great” is that he was the first emperor to accept Christianity in Rome, which was pagan. Not only did it accept, it embraced, supported and strived for its spread. He tried to turn the empire’s belief system into Christianity; He gave freedom of religion to Christians living in the territory of his country. It was very influential not only for its own country but also for other empires, tribes and communities that had a relationship with its empire.
Constantine was blessed by the Orthodox churches for “sainthood” due to the importance he attached to Christianity. However, he was not compelling about his people’s acceptance of Christianity; He also respected the polytheistic belief system of Rome. Although he printed Labarum, one of the symbols of the Latin name of Jesus, which was accepted as one of the symbols of early Christianity, he also used the Roman gods on the coins. He even allowed himself to be portrayed as the ‘God of the Sun’, that is, ‘Left Invictus’.
Hagia Irene, an old Orthodox church, which means “Holy Peace Church”, is dedicated to Azize İrene, whose real name is Penelope. According to the legend believed in this matter, Azize İrene, whose real name is Penelope, comes to the city when Constantinople was made capital by Constantine. The young woman who has accepted Christianity makes a great effort to spread her religion. However, Romans who believe in paganism do not welcome these efforts; They torture Penelope to deny Christianity and become pagan. First they throw it into a well filled with snakes, but the snakes don’t touch Penelope. Afterwards, they accuse them of sorcery and drag and tie them to horses. Penelope’s healthy recovery from all these tortures makes the people believe in him. Constantine declared Penelope as a saint and named Saint Hagia Eirene, Azize İrene, and appointed Aya İrini, the first church he built in the city.
According to other sources, in the place where Hagia Irene was built, there are temples built for Artemis, Aphrodite and Apollo in the Roman period. The church was built on the ruins of these temples and dedicated to the peace of God by Constantine.
Uprising and reconstruction
Unfortunately, Aya Irini, one of the largest buildings of its period, cannot survive in its original form; It was completely burned during the Nika uprising in 532, during the time of the famous Byzantine Emperor Justinian.
The Nika uprising is one of the most violent uprisings that İsanbul has experienced throughout its history. Half of the city was burned and damaged; tens of thousands of people lost their lives. When Justinian prohibits the polytheistic pagan belief within the borders of the empire, a crowded and angry group who rebelled assembles in the Hippodrome, now Sultanahmet Square, by saying the word “Nika”, which means “be the winner,” and reading hymns. The rebelling people kept the palace in siege for five days and buried in Zeus, where they believed to be the king of the gods, and burned Hagia Irene and Hagia Sophia. The uprising results in the success of Justinian. The Emperor kills more than 30 thousand people in the uprising and throws their bodies into the sea.
Hagia Irene, which was damaged by the rebellion because it was wooden, is rebuilt by order of Justinian. Renovated as an extraordinary example of the early Byzantine domed basilica, the church suffers another fire in 564, but this time it is only repaired as there is not much damage. The church also suffered destruction during the earthquake in 740 and it was repaired by Constantine V. in 753. Since Constantine V. was the emperor of the iconoclast period, where icons and depictions were opposed, depictions and ornaments in Hagia Irene are removed, as in all other places of worship.
The first museum of our history
The Sultan Abdülmecit asked for the East Roman inscriptions he saw during his trip to Yalova in 1845 to be transferred to Istanbul. Tophane Consultant Ahmet Fethi Pasha, who is assigned with the subject, started to collect the works in Aya İrini. The first museum of the Ottoman Empire was opened in 1846, with the artifacts brought from Yalova and old weapons collected during the weapon depot. The spaces between the porticos in the church were closed with glass windows and exhibition areas were created. There were two separate sections in the museum, where ancient weapons collections (Mecma-i Asar-ı Atika) and archaeological artifacts collections (Mecma-i Eslihai Atika) were exhibited. The museum was named as Hümayun after Ahmet Fethi Pasha, who had great efforts in its formation. Due to the increasing number of archaeological artifacts exhibited over time, the Mecma-i Eslihai Atika section was moved to the Tiled Kiosk and formed the basis of today’s Istanbul Archeology Museums.
The Mecma-i Eslihai Atika section, in which ancient weapons were exhibited, was used as a Military Museum until 1940. After the Second World War, the old weapons in the museum were first moved to Maçka Weapon, then to the Harbiye School Gymnasium building, and finally, it was started to be displayed again with the opening of the Harbiye Military Museum.
Today, Aya Irini hosts many art events, especially classical music concerts, especially within İKSV, with its extraordinary atmosphere and magnificent acoustic features.
Iconoplast interior design
Hagia Irene, which has the characteristics of early Byzantine architecture, is one of the biggest buildings of its period with its dimensions of 100 meters and 32 meters. The lower part of the church has a typical basilica plan consisting of a nave and two corridors, with a rectangular shape and a semicircle protrusion at the tip. The upper part is in the form of a huge ancient Roman cross.
On the corridors surrounding the central area of the church, there are vaulted galleries formed by the combination of arches. The main dome, which is also located in the central area and carried by four large elephant legs, is 35 meters high and 15 meters wide. Next to the main dome, there is another dome that is typical of the religious buildings of the period and covers the narthex, which is the closed space at the entrance. Narteks opens to the atrium, the courtyard, with five doors. The courtyard is surrounded by porches that were added during the Ottoman era. The sarcophagus in the courtyard is believed to be the tomb of Constantine the Great.
Between the thick walls of the semicircular apse, which covers the altar room of the church, five rows of seating areas were placed for the clergy. The apse is surrounded by three glazed facades, symbolizing the trilogy in Christianity. There is a large cross in the half dome above the area called Bema apse. The cross, with tear drops on its ends, is one of the important proofs of the Iconoplast era, which included 726 and 843 years in Christianity, where religious depictions were prohibited. The cross, made of small, cut mosaic stones in black, called Tessera, is seated on a golden background.
The interior decoration of the Church of the Aya consists mainly of the mosaics in the apse and the narthex and the fresco fragments in the southern corridor, the column heads and the reliefs on the floor.