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  • Writer's pictureLara Oge


Updated: Mar 30

North façade of Tekfur Sarayı, photographed by Nicholas V. Artamonoff between 1936 and 1945 (Source: Harvard Digital Collections).

On the northwest of the historical peninsula and adjacent to the land walls is Tekfur Sarayı, a Byzantine palace that housed emperors starting in the 12th century. It is often viewed as part of the Blachernae complex due to its proximity to other buildings within Blachernae, but Tekfur Sarayı formed its own religious community and formed the neighborhood we know today as Tekfursaray (Τεκφουρσαράυ, Tekfoursaráy). The name of the neighborhood comes directly from the palace, which is believed to have gotten its name from the word “takavor,” Armenian for emperor. Although the palace was renamed in the 16th century as Constantine Palace after Constantine Palaiologos and later as the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus, the name of the neighborhood remained the same.

Jewish settlements near Tekfur Sarayı (Source: Harvard Digital Collections).

Following the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Ottoman explorer Evliya Çelebi recorded that Jewish congregations from Thessaloniki were settled in the area by the Ottomans, indicating that Greek Orthodox settlers were not always the majority in the neighborhood. The Kastorya Synagogue that is thought to have been built during the reign of Mehmed II is also evidence of the presence of a Jewish community.

The neighborhood does not survive in the modern municipal map of Istanbul, but is still present in the urban understanding of locals. The district of the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus is often referred to as “Tekfursaray” even though it legally falls within the borders of “Ayvansaray.”

Palace of the Porphyrogenitus

Palace of the Porphyrogenitus (τὸ Παλάτιον τοῦ Πορφυρογέννητου, tó Palátion toú Porfyrogénnitou, Tekfur Sarayı) is recorded under many different names; 19th-century Greek scholar Skarlatos Byzantios names the palace as Theotokos Ta Kyrou and alternatively as Platytera tōn Ouranōn. He also mentions that the Greek Ta Kyrou has been “corrupted by the Turks as ‘Tekir’” in an effort to associate foreign names with words already extant in the Turkish language, and that therefore, the palace is also called Tekir Saray.

Tekfur Sarayı, photographed by Ali Saim Ülgen, issued on July 16, 1949 (Source: Salt Research).

As the only surviving palace from the Blachernae complex, Tekfur Sarayı now welcomes visitors in its renovated form, which has been turned into a museum. In the past few centuries, though, it has taken on various different functions before settling as a museum. After the fall of Constantinople, the palace was used as a workshop for traditional Turkish tiles (çini) in the 18th century and as a glass atelier in the 19th century before it succumbed to a fire in 1864. 

In the early 21st century, restoration works in the palace received public attention and criticism for not maintaining the historical texture of the building. The final result is seen by modern scholars as a remarkably different Byzantine-style building, far from a conserved and restored palace from the Byzantine era. Since 2014, Tekfur Sarayı in its new form has been displaying mosaics, tiles, and other artifacts representing the rich cultural heritage that once originated inside the same walls.

Panagia Hançeriotissa

Commonly known as the Panagia Church, this Greek Orthodox parish was first mentioned in an Ottoman source in 1648 and was first formally recorded in a list by Smith as Panagia Hançeriotissa in 1669. Accounts of earlier visits to the church exist, though no known formal record exists. Scholars have viewed the existence of the adjacent Holy Spring of Hagia Paraveske as an indication of the presence of the church in the Byzantine era.

In the 18th century, the church was rebuilt following a fire that destroyed twelve churches in the surrounding areas. There it is recorded as the Church of the Virgin Mary, leading to the multiple names the church was known by in the following centuries. An inscription on the church walls indicates that the church was rebuilt by the Eskiciler Loncası (Guild of Junk Dealers) in 1837, though the reason for the destruction is unknown. Panagia Hançeriotissa remains active today, although the Greek Orthodox presence in the neighborhood has notably decreased since the 19th century.



Çelik, Zeynep. The Remaking of Istanbul: Portrait of an Ottoman City in the Nineteenth Century. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1986.

Karaca, Zafer. İstanbul’da Tanzimat Öncesi Rum Ortodoks Kiliseleri. Istanbul: Yapı Kredi Yayınları, 2008. 

Osmanoğlu, Özlem. “İstanbul Rum-Ortodoks Kiliselerinde Epitafion İşlemeleri ve İkonografileri.” MA thesis, Işık University, 2018. 

Vyzantios, Skarlatos. Constantinople: A Topographical, Archaeological & Historical Description Vol. 1. Translated by Haris Rigas. Istanbul: istos yayın, 2019.

Yaşar, Kübra. “19. Yüzyılda bir Haliç Yerleşimi Olarak Ayvansaray.’’ MA thesis, Istanbul Technical University, 2018.

“17th Century - 21st Century (Ottoman Control): Sultan’s Multiple Uses of the Tekfur Sarayi - Tekfur Sarayi’s Roles Throughout History: From Byzantine Palace to Brothel to Lieu De Mémoire · The Urban Imagination,” n.d.

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