The Byzantine church known as Atik Mustafa Pașa Camii was situated in the region of Blachernai, near the walls of the Golden Horn (modern Ayvansaray), approximately 100-150 m. east of the church of the Virgin Mary of Blachernai (figs. 1-3). The study of its church is significant for the understanding of the evolution of religious architecture in Constantinople after Iconoclasm. Several suggestions have been made concerning the initial dedication of the church (Sts Peter and Mark, Sts Cosmas and Damianos, St Elias of Petrion), but they are all being debated (see further on).
2. Architectural design
The building, 15 m. wide and 17.5 m. long, is the only example of a "standard" tetrastyle cross-in-square church in Constantinople (see ground plan):1 in this church we do not see the additional bay between the the square of the naos and the triple apse, which is usually characterisitic of the complex cross-in-square types in Constantinople. The origin of this architectural type has been assosiated with monastic church-building of the 8th century, mainly in Olympos of Bithynia, one of the most important monastic centres of Byzantium in this period.2 The Atik Mustafa Pașa Camii is considered the earliest surviving post-iconoclastic church in Constantinople and the first of the cross-in-square type; it displays many archaic elements and can be dated to the second half of the 9th century.
The dome is supported by four built pillars, much less heavy and large compared to the pillars of the early domed basilicas. The corner bays are spacious rooms covered with barrel-vaults, and they communicate through arches. On the eastern side, there are three wide apses of similar height; they are semicircular on the inside, while on the outside they are formed with three sides (fig. 5). Two rows of arched windows are opened on the central apse, separated by walls, which is considered an archaic element; in early 10th century, for example, the north church of the monastery of Lips (907) has three-light windows on the apse, the lights separated from each other with semi-columns.3
There were also several openings on the southern facade of the building (fig. 6). In the middle of the facade, between two buttresses, there are traces of a triple arched entrance to the church; it was flanked by a simple door on the east, and a double arched niche on the west side. On the upper level there were windows – one, two or three – according to the width of the respective openings in the lower level. In 1957, the American Byzantine Institute found frescoes on the lunettes of the three arches of the triple entrance; they depicted the Archangel Michael (fig. 7) in the middle, flanked by the saints Kosmas (fig. 9) and Damianos (fig. 8) and they are dated to the first half of the 15th century. These frescoes, along with the fragments of frescoes, of entirely different style, from the exonarthex of the Chora Monastery, the only other samples of monumental painting in Constantinople in that period.4
The central and western parts of the south facade are articulated in two levels: the upper level offers some indications that it had some sort of roof intended to shelter the exterior space below. Some late-Byzantine burials found in that part of the monument suggest that it was possibly converted into a funerary chapel; this would also explain the presence of a fresco of the "psychopomp", conductor of souls, Archangel Michael. In any case, the chapel was probably destroyed by the mid-15th century.5
The north exterior wall has been subjected to various alterations, but traces from the Byzantine period indicate that its articulation resembled that of the southern wall. On the west side there was a narthex in the Byzantine period, of which only parts of the side walls survive. Three doors led from the narthex to the nave.
Initially, the proportions of the building must have seemed a lot lighter than today. This is due to the change in ground and floor level; in the Byzantine period, the floor was 1.50 m. lower that today. Also the drum of the Byzantine dome was taller, filled with windows.
The masonry, as seen on the east facade of the building, shows the alternation of stone and brick rows, a standard masonry technique in Constantinople from the 5th to the 14th century. However, there is a complete absence of the ornamental masonry that develops in the Middle Byzantine period. Combined with the archaic style of the apses, this leads to an early dating of the monument.6 The three triple apses filled with windows also appear in the securely dated churches of the Theotokos of the Lips monastery and the katholikon of the Myrelaion monastery (920-922); however, in our monument, the way the windows are formed shows an earlier trend. What is more, the two other Constantinopolitan churches have a horizontal cornice that connects the apses, which does not appear in the Atik Mustafa Pașa Camii; this is considered to be evidence of older and simpler architectural techniques in this building. Based on this evidence, the church is dated to the second half of the 9th century and is considered part of the extensive building activity of Basil I, after his rise to the throne in 867.7 The significance of this monument lies in the fact that, being the earliest cross-in-square church in Constantinople with many archaic elements, it is a very important example of the evolution that led to the formation of this type in the Middle Byzantine period. However, if the later date suggested by Müller-Wiener is proved to be correct, then the monument will be associated with the churches of the late 11th- early 12th century in Constantinople, known for their archaisms in terms of architectural type (Gül Camii, Chora Monastery, Kalenderhane Camii).
4. History of the monument
The history of the church's foundation is closely linked to its initial dedication,8 which still remains uncertain. The first to identify this monument as the church of St Peter and Mark in the Blachernai – known from Byzantine sources – was the Patriarch of Constantinople Konstantios I in the 19th century9. The Synaxarion of Constantinople mentions that the patrons of the church were two patriκioi, who, in 458, brought to Constantinople the holy vail, maphorion, of the Virgin Mary and built the church in order to house the relic.10 The existing building cannot, of course, be dated to the 5th century. However, it is possible that reference to the church’s antiquity does not reflect reality; in any case there is no concrete evidence that this monument should be identified with the church of St Peter and Marc.
A second suggestion, proposed by Eyice, identifies the building with the church of St Thekla, a chapel built by Thekla, daughter of Emperor Theophilos, in the 9th century; this was situated in the Blachernai palace, adjoining to her private rooms.11 The date of the building agrees with this theory, however, its location and size do not allow the hypothesis that it was a private chapel, part of the complex of the Blachernai palace.
Another identification with the Monastery of Sts Kosmas and Damianos in the region of Blachernai12 could be enhanced by the presence of the frescoes of the two saints, but is not supported by other archaeological evidence. The building bears no trace of Palaiologan activity, while it is recorded that this particular monastery was refurbished by Empress Theodora Palaiologina in the period 1425-48.
T.F. Mathews and E.J.W. Hawkins suggested that the monument could be the church of St Elias of Petrion, mentioned in the Vita Basilii13 as one of the churches built or restored by Basil I; they do, however, point out that it is not certain whether Petrion extended to the area where the surviving church is situated. Therefore, the issue of the identification of the monument remains unresolved.
After 1453 the church had undergone extensive changes, since, at the beginning of the 16th century, the vizier Mustafa Paşa converted it into a mosque. The narthex was replaced by a wooden vestibule (fig. 10), while a minaret was built in the south-western corner (fig. 3). Many doors and windows have been blocked or replaced by smaller ones, effectively turning the interior of the church a lot darker (figs 11 and 12). A mihrab was placed in the central apse, while the north-eastern corner room with its apse has been turned into a sanctuary of Cabir ibn Abdullah, the legendary warrior of Islam and companion of the Prophet Mohammed; thus the building assumed further religious significance.
Among the changes, we should also consider the formation of pediments on the top of the facades of the building; the old dome has also been replaced by a new one, set on an octagonal drum, without any windows. The western arm of the cross is covered by an irregularly shaped barrel-vault, which suggests that this part of the building must have been rebuilt at some point. The two side entrances leading from the narthex to the nave have been blocked and converted into windows.
5. Modern condition
The building suffered extensive damages from fire (1729) and an earthquake (1894), but was restored in both instances. A new refurbishment began in 1922. Until today, there has been no systematic archaeological research in the area; the particular sanctity that this space holds for Muslims often sets an obstacle towards this direction. Entrance is strictly forbidden, even for observation, in the south-eastern corner bay, which houses the tomb of Cabir ibn Abdullah.
1. For the architecture of the monument see Mathews, T.F., The byzantine churches of Istanbul. A photographic survey (University Park 1976), p. 16; Müller-Wiener, W., Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls (Tübingen 1977), pp. 82-83; Mathews, T.F. – Hawkins, E.J.W., “Notes on the Atik Mustafa paşa camii in Istanbul and its frescoes”, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 39 (1985), pp. 125-130.
2. Mango, C., Byzantine Architecture (London 1986), pp. 96-97.
3. Γκιολές, Ν., Βυζαντινή Ναοδομία (600-1204) (Αθήνα 21992), p. 87.
4. Mathews, T.F. – Hawkins, E.J.W., “Notes on the Atik Mustafa paşa camii in Istanbul and its frescoes”, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 39 (1985), pp.130-133.
5. Mathews, T.F. – Hawkins, E.J.W., “Notes on the Atik Mustafa paşa camii in Istanbul and its frescoes”, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 39 (1985), pp. 129, 130-131.
6. Mathews, T.F. – Hawkins, E.J.W., “Notes on the Atik Mustafa paşa camii in Istanbul and its frescoes”, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 39 (1985), pp. 127-128.
7. Usually the monument is dated to the 9th century. A later date in late11th-early 12th c. has also been suggested, since it was a period of archaisms in the architecture of the capital, see Müller-Wiener, W., Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls (Tübingen 1977), p. 82.
8. For the different proposals concerning the initial dedication of the monument see Mathews, T.F. – Hawkins, E.J.W., “Notes on the Atik Mustafa paşa camii in Istanbul and its frescoes”, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 39 (1985), pp.133-134.
9. Van Millingen, A., Byzantine Churches in Constantinople, Their History and Architecture (London 1912; repr. 1974), pp. 191-2; Janin, R., La géographie ecclésiastique de l'Empire byzantin Ière partie: Le siège de Constantinople et Patriarchat OEcuménique, iii: Les églises et les monastères (Paris 21969), p. 402. See also Schneider, A.M., Byzanz. Vorarbeiten zur Topographie und Archäologie der Stadt (Berlin 1936), p. 53· Müller-Wiener, W., Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls (Tübingen 1977), p. 82; Ebersolt, J. – Thiers, A., Les Églises de Constantinople (Paris 1913), p. 131.
10. Delehaye, H. (ed.), Synaxarium Ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae, col. 793-4 (July 2).
11. Eyice, S., Istanbul. Petit guide à travers les monuments byzantins et turcs (Istanbul 1955), p. 66.
12. Aran, B., “The nunnery of the Anargyres and the Atik Mustafa pasha mosque”, Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik 26 (1977), pp. 247-253.
13. Vita Basilii [= Theophanes Continuatus V] 82, Bekker, I. (ed.), Theophanes Continuatus (CSHB, Bonn 1838), p. 325. The Vita Basilii has been added as a fifth book of the Chronography by Theopanes Continuatus. It was written in the mid-10th century (ca. 950) by Constantine VII Porphyrogennitos or some other member of his circle, in an effort to construct a glorious genealogy for Basil I, who was actually of humble descent.