Hagia Irene: Constantine’s First Church

An impressive structure within the grounds of the Topkapi Palace is the Hagia Irene, an Eastern Orthodox Church with its beginnings going back to the time of Constantine. It has byzantine elements and is one of the most important Istanbul churches, especially from a historical standpoint. This landmark of Istanbul and early Christianity during the era of Constantine is found sequestered in the outer courtyard of today’s Topkapi Palace.  Discover more about the Hagia Irene Museum today.

The Time of Constantine

Today’s Hagia Irene was built on the location of a pre-Christian temple as one of three shrines devoted to God’s attributes. It is the first Christian church built in Constantinople, by Roman emperor Constantine I. It was commissioned in the 4th century and completed in 360. Damage occurred to the church during the centuries and repairs and restorations reflect their time periods. Restorations and additional mosaics and frescoes were added by Constantine V. It was enclosed inside the palace walls after 1453, used as an armory and a weapons museum, and currently serves as a concert hall due to its outstanding acoustic characteristics and atmosphere. The church was only opened to the public in 2014.

Hagia Irene is the only Byzantine church in Istanbul with its original atrium. Iconoclastic art of a large cross in the half-dome, replaced earlier decoration. The church is 100 m x 32 m and shows the features typical of a Roman basilica, including a nave, two aisles, columns, pillars, a main space, a narthex, an atrium and galleries. The twenty window dome is 15m wide and 35m in height.

As You Plan Your Visit

Tourists can visit the Hagia Irene Museum daily except for Tuesday and with later opening hours on the first days of religious festive days, with opening hours then starting in the afternoon. Opening hours are 9am to 4:45pm during the winter season with ticket booths closed at 4pm. The summer season offers visitors extended hours with opening hours until 6:45pm and the closing of ticket booths at 6pm.  The entrance fee is 20 TL per person. “Baby cars”, which may be strollers, are prohibited from entering museum sections. Many that visit may also choose to enter the Sacred Relics Department. Be aware that mini-skirts, shorts, tank tops and such revealing clothing is not appropriate in this area and visitors that wear such clothing may be asked to cover themselves with cloths given by the staff. There are a few places on the grounds to stop for a bite and a beverage. The Karakol Restaurant, BKG Museum’s Café, BKG Museum’s Café and Konyali Restaurant are available for visitors to take a break during their exploration of the grounds of the Topkapi Palace and all of the surrounding structures near the Hagia Irene.

The Hagia Irene Museum offers visitors the chance to step into the first church established in Constantinople. Its convenient location and relation to other surrounding sites makes it worth taking a day simply to explore the area and the layers of history found here.

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