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Hagia Irene

Hagia Irene or Hagia Eirene is a former Eastern Orthodox church located in the outer courtyard of Topkapı Palace. It is open as a museum every day except Monday, but requires special permission for admission.

The building reputedly stands on the site of a pre-Christian temple. It ranks, in fact, as the first church built in Constantinople. Roman emperor Constantine I commissioned the Hagia Irene church in the 4th century. It was burned down during the Nike revolt in 532. Emperor Justinian I had the church restored in 548. It served as the church of the Patriarchate before Hagia Sophia was completed in 537.

Heavily damaged by an earthquake in the 8th century, it dates in its present form largely from the repairs made at that time. The Emperor Constantine V ordered the restorations and had its interior decorated with mosaics and frescoes. Hagia Irene is the only example of a Byzantine hagia irenechurch in the city which retains its original atrium. A great cross in the half-dome above the main narthex, where the image of the Theotokos was usually placed in Byzantine tradition, is a unique vestige of the Iconoclastic art. The church was enlarged during the 11th and 12th centuries.

The church measures 100m x 32 m. It has the typical form of a Roman basilica, consisting of a nave and two aisles, divided by columns and pillars. It comprises a main space, a narthex, galleries and an atrium. The dome is 15m wide and 35m high and has twenty windows.

After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 by Mehmed II, the church was enclosed inside the Sultan's Walls. The Janissaries (Ottoman soldiers) used the church as an armoury. It was also used as a warehouse for war booty. During the reign of Sultan Ahmet III (1703-1730) it was converted into a weapon museum.

It was repaired by Field Marshall Ahmed Fethi Paşa in 1846 and became the first Turkish museum. It was used as the Military Museum from 1908 until1978 when it was turned over to the Turkish Ministry of Culture.

Today, the museum serves mainly as a concert hall for classical music performances, due to its extraordinary acoustic characteristics and impressive atmosphere. Most of the concerts of the Istanbul International Music Festival have been held here every summer since 1980.

In 2000, the Turkish haute couture designer Faruk Saraç produced a special show here. A collection of 700 designed pieces inspired by the Ottoman sultans, including the robes of 36 sultans ranging from Osman Gazi, the founder of the Ottoman Empire to Sultan Vahdettin, the last sultan, were on display. The show was accompanied by music and the story of the sultans' lives and demonstrations of Ottoman-era dancing.


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