St Stephen Church Istanbul

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St Stephen Church of the Bulgars on the shores of the Golden Horn

When the original wooden St Stephen Church Istanbul was erected on the shores of the Golden Horn in the early 19th century, the Bulgarian Church was trying to break away from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Istanbul. At that time the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople controlled all the religious affairs of Orthodox congregations throughout the entire Eastern Christian world. After a fire severely damaged St Stephen’s a decision was made to erect a church constructed entirely of iron. A competition was held to find the best design. The winners, an Austrian company, used neo-Gothic and neo-Baroque styles and cast each section piece-by-piece in Vienna between 1893 and 1896. When everything was completed it was loaded onto a boat that travelled down the Danube and arrived in Istanbul via the Black Sea. Somewhat like a giant Meccano set, it took one and a half years to put all the pieces together and on September 8, 1898, the church opened its doors once again.

St Stephen of the Bulgars iconostasis
A moment's pause in St Stephen of the Bulgars

After falling into disrepair St Stephen Church Istanbul was closed for many years, only accessible if you knew where to find the caretaker to let you in. In 2011, an agreement between Bulgaria and Turkey saw the start of extensive renovation work. The church was reinaugurated as an official place of worship on January 8, 2018, coinciding with the 120th anniversary of the church. Today it’s one of the world’s few pre-fabricated iron churches still in existence.

Railing details, interior St Stephen of the Bulgars
The steps of St Stephen of the Bulgars

Read the full history of St Stephen Church Istanbul on page 166 of Istanbul 50 Unsung Places, as well as how to get to it and other lesser known Istanbul sights, all by public transport.


Planning to come to Istanbul or Turkey? Here are my helpful tips for planning your trip.

For FLIGHTS I like to use Kiwi.com.

Don’t pay extra for an E-VISA. Here’s my post on everything to know before you take off.

However E-SIM are the way to go to stay connected with a local phone number and mobile data on the go. Airalo is easy to use and affordable.

Even if I never claim on it, I always take out TRAVEL INSURANCE. I recommend Visitors Coverage.

I’m a big advocate of public transport, but know it’s not suitable for everyone all the time. When I need to be picked up from or get to Istanbul Airport or Sabiha Gokcen Airport, I use one of these GetYourGuide website AIRPORT TRANSFERS.

ACCOMMODATION: When I want to find a place to stay I use Booking.com.

CITY TOURS & DAY TRIPS: Let me guide you around Kadikoy with my audio walking tour Stepping back through Chalcedon or venture further afield with my bespoke guidebook Istanbul 50 Unsung Places. I know you’ll love visiting the lesser-known sites I’ve included. It’s based on using public transport as much as possible so you won’t be adding too much to your carbon footprint. Then read about what you’ve seen and experienced in my three essay collections and memoir about moving to Istanbul permanently.

Browse the GetYourGuide website or Viator to find even more ways to experience Istanbul and Turkey with food tours, visits to the old city, evening Bosphorus cruises and more!

However you travel, stay safe and have fun! Iyi yolculuklar.

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