In the district of Fatih, on the western side of the Golden Horn lies the historic neighborhoods of Fener and Balat. Finding the separation line between the two can be difficult to decipher at times, hence why it’s referred to and tagged with Fener-Balat. My recommendation, to explore Fatih start at Fener, walk through Balat and up to Edirnekapı.
HISTORY OF FENER
Hagia Sophia was the seat of the Greek Ecumenical Patriarch up until the collapse of the Byzantine Empire (the Fall of Constantinople) in 1453, afterwards the Ecumenical Patriarchate slowly found its in Fener – making this neighborhood the center of Greek Orthodox in the city. With the word of Fatih Sultan Mehmet II in 1454, who conquered Constantinople and ruled the Ottoman Empire, the Greeks were guaranteed their safety and religious freedom, and began to immigrate and populate Fener.
The name ‘Fener’ is derived from the Turkish translation of the original Greek word ‘phanar’ for ‘lantern or lighthouse’. During the Byzantine Empire, stood a prominent lighthouse here along the Golden Horn.
There are two Greek sites to see and visit, the Patriarchal Church of St. George and the Fener Greek Orthodox High School.
Beyond impressed by this hidden gem, you can read my full blog post of the Patriarchal Church of St. George here.
If you take a bus from Eminönü to Fener (15 minutes), exit the bus and cross the street. As you enter the side street, veer towards the left to reach the entrance of the complex. It’s free to visit, but keep in mind this is a house of worship so be courteous to those observing.
Walking away from The Church of St. George up the hill you’ll spot the Fener Greek Orthodox High School. Walking further in that direction will lead you into the neighborhood of Balat.
Phanar Greek Orthodox College (Özel Fener Rum Lisesi)
Established in 1454, with the word of Fatih Sultan Mehmet II, the Orthodox people were permitted to have their education in their own language, soon the Phanar Greek Orthodox College was established. It became the school for prominent Greek and Bulgarian families during the Ottoman Empire. In 1861, the school turned into a high school giving classical education. In 1881, the current big, red brick building situated at the top of the hill was constructed. Nicknamed ‘the red school’ or ‘red castle’ with reds brick from France, this building can easily be seen in the skyline from the Golden Horn, in addition to walking throughout the surrounding area.
Additional Greek sites to see in this area:
- Pammakaristos Church Fethiye Camii
This Byzantine church held the seat of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate from 1456-1587. It was later converted into a mosque in the late 16th century by Murat III and renamed to commemorate his conquest of Georgia and Azerbaijan.
- Church of St. Mary of the Mongols Kanlı Kilise
Constructed in the late 13th century, it’s the only Byzantine church that has never been converted to a mosque and has always remained in the hands of the Greek Orthodox Church, thanks to Fatih Sultan Mehmet II. Named after Maria Palaiologina, an illegitimate Byzantine princess who was married off to a Mongol Khan and lived with him in Persia for 15 years. After her husband’s assassination she returned to Constantinople and built this church and lived her remaining days as a nun until her death.