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Hagia Irene over the Ruins of Byzantium

Hagia Irene over the Ruins of Byzantium
Photo: Hagia Irene Church seen from Istanbul ferry over the Ruins of Byzantium.

Hagia Irene is a former Eastern Orthodox church located in the outer courtyard of Topkapı Palace in Istanbul, Turkey. 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 first Hagia Eirene church in the 4th century. In 381 the First Council of Constantinople took place in the church. It served as the church of the Patriarchate before Hagia Sophia was completed in 537.

After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 by Mehmed II, the church was enclosed inside the walls of the Topkapi palace. It was repaired in 1846 and became the first Turkish museum. Today, the museum serves mainly as a concert hall for classical music performances, due to its extraordinary acoustic characteristics and impressive atmosphere. Many 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 the last sultan, Mehmed VI, 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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