Istanbul, Pantokrator Monastery

Also known as Zeyrek Camii
Era 12AD
Location Zeyrek Mh., 34083 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey

The Pantokrator monastery is on a hill overlooking the Ataturk Boulevard though the middle of Istanbul. The views from it are great; the view to it, once you know where to look, is possible across the city. In its time, it would have been an imposing building.

The monastery was founded between c1118 and 1136 by the emperor John II Komnenos and his wife Eirene. What survives are three interlocking churches, the core of the monastery. The buildings served the monastery but also as an imperial mausoleum with over a dozen imperial tombs. If you look at the east end of the complex the church on the left is the church dedicated to Christ Pantokrator (Ruler of All) with a wonderful opus sectile floor. The right hand church is dedicated to Mary, the Merciful Mother of God. Between them and joining them is an irregular third church (perhaps ‘chapel’ is a better word) dedicated to the Archangel Michael. It was in this space that appropriately the imperial tombs were located – Michael being the Guardian of souls. John and Eirene were both buried there.

It is a working mosque, one of the most important in the city. It has been heavily restored and repainted. When I was there in 2014, you couldn’t actually get it, only admire from the outside. I am told that the inside has been painted over and that there is relatively little to see now. When I visited it in the 1980s and 1990s, it was in a dilapidated state but it was possible to get in, it was possible to see bits of the glorious opus sectile floor and details of the decoration, and also to spot a few fragments of mosaic still in situ. A few ornamental fragments in costly red and gold and cheaper blue survived in the window arches of the north church. The very first time I visited, some local lads showed me a place in the south church where you could stick your hand into a gap behind some (modern) planks. I was very brave and did this, terrified I would emerge clutching a snake or spider. My reward was a fistful of tesserae in blue, red and gold

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