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The Bodrum Mosque was formerly the Church of the Monastery of Myrelaion or "the place of myrrh." An archaeological study by Cecil L. Striker in 1965 has invalidated previously held notions regarding the church's origin and confirmed its foundation by Byzantine Admiral Romanus Lecapenus. The admiral was co-crowned with Emperor VII Porphyrogenitus (913-959) in 920 and remained in power until 944 when he retired to become a monk. The monastery he founded was erected next to his palace, which he had built atop a large Roman rotunda that he converted into a cistern. Its church was repaired in the Palaeologan era. The Myrelaion functioned as a nunnery from its foundation until Ottoman capture in 1453; it was also a popular burial ground for members of the Macedonian and Comnenian dynasties.
Grand vizier Mesih Pasa converted the church into a mosque and established an endowment for its expenses circa 1500, as part of a larger campaign of conversion initiated by Bayezid II (1481-1512). The Turkish name for the church, which means 'basement', is thought to refer to its crypt; although the mosque is also known by the name of its Ottoman founder, Mesih Pasa. The Bodrum Mosque was damaged by fire in 1784 and in 1911 when it was abandoned. In 1930, a team of archaeologists led by David Talbot Rice investigated the site around the mosque, discovering the round cistern of Romanus' palace. An unfinished restoration project, which was executed by the Istanbul Archaeology Museum in 1964-65, damaged the historic appearance of the church by replacing a majority of its exterior masonry. In 1965, a second excavation was conducted by art historian Cecil L. Striker focusing on the substructure. A parallel excavation by R. Naumann revealed traces of the imperial palace nearby. Finally in 1986, the church was restored and put into use as a mosque. The cistern was also restored in the 1990s and is used as an underground shopping mall. No other buildings have remained of the Myrelaion monastery.
The church of the Myrelaion is built on a Greek cross or cross-in-square plan and is composed of a nave with four cross vaults around a dome, a sanctuary to the east and a transverse narthex to the west. Its crypt was built at the same time and has an identical plan with a cross vault at the center instead of a dome. A wooden portico, which comes before the narthex in earlier photographs, was demolished during restoration.
The narthex is tall, and consists of three bays that are domed at the center and cross-vaulted on the sides. It has arched windows located at two levels in each bay and at either end. Three archways lead from the narthex into the nave. The nave is partitioned into a central hall and aisles by the four piers that carry the dome. These stone piers have probably replaced marble columns with capitals similar to the ones remaining in the crypt. The aisles lead into clover-shaped pastoforion or side rooms that are linked to the sanctuary in the middle. The nave is lit from above with clerestory windows inside the four cross vaults and eight windows cut into the drum of the dome. There are also numerous windows on walls, placed at two different levels. The church was once decorated with mosaics and marble revetments; a search in 1930 has revealed neither and has destroyed painted decoration from the Ottoman period.
The church has a remarkably symmetrical appearance on the exterior that heightens the effect of the central dome. The structure of the walls is expressed with semi-cylindrical buttresses and the arched windows on the drum create an undulating effect that is matched by the circular ends of the four cross vaults. The eastern façade is dominated by the semi-hexagonal apses of the sanctuary and the side rooms. A simple minaret of cut stone is attached to the northwest corner of the narthex. Surrounded by a walled precinct in Ottoman times, the Bodrum mosque is threatened by encroaching rows of concrete apartment buildings today.
The building, whose masonry consists entirely of bricks, is built on a foundation structure made of alternated courses of bricks and stone, and has a cross-in-square (or quincunx) plan, with a nine meter long side.
The central nave (naos) is surmounted by an umbrella dome, with a drum interrupted by arched windows, which gives to the structure an undulating rhythmus. The four side naves are covered by barrel vaults. The edifice has a narthex to the west and a sanctuary to the east. The central bay of the narthex is covered by a dome, the two side bays by cross vaults. The nave is partitioned by four piers, which substituted in the ottoman period the original columns. Many openings – windows, oeil-de-boeufs and arches – give light to the structure.
The exterior of the building is characterized by the half cylindrical buttresses which articulate its façades. Originally an exonarthex existed too, but in the ottoman period it was replaced by a wooden portico. The building has three polygonal apses. The central one belongs to the sanctuary (bema), while the lateral are parts of two clover-shaped side chapels (pastophoria), prothesis and diakonikon.
The Ottomans built a stone minaret close to the narthex. The building was originally decorated with a marble revetment and mosaics, which disappeared totally. As a whole, Bodrum Mosque shows strong analogies with the north church of the Fenari Isa complex.
The substructure, in contrast with the building, has an austere and rough aspect. Originally its purpose was only that of bringing the church to the same level of the palace of Lekapenos. After the restoration in the Palaiologan period it was used as burial chapel.
This edifice is the first example of a private burial church of a Byzantine emperor, starting so a tradition typical of the Comnenian and Palaiologan periods. Moreover, the building represents a beautiful example of the cross-in-square type church, the new architectonical type of the middle Byzantine architecture.