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This church was reconstructed in 1843 by Fossati brothers, Gaspare (1809–1883) and Giuseppe (1822–1891), Swiss-Italian architects from Lugano who completed more than 50 projects in Turkey during the Tanzimat era, most famously the restoration of Ayasofya for Sultan Abdülmecid I and the Russian embassy on İstiklal Caddesi. The church owns an icon of the Virgin of the Hodegetria, which was originally kept in a Dominican church in Caffa, Crimea. It is also one of most attractive Catholic places of worship in Istanbul.
The church’s history dates back to the 15th century when Mehmed II converted the original 14th-century Dominican Church of San Paolo, also in Galata, into a mosque in 1475 (now the Arap Cami). In 1476 the friars moved 200 meters up the hill to a house owned by the Venetian nobleman Angelo Zaccaria, next to a still-magnificent by semi-ruined Geneoese han (where the French poet André Chénier was born – see Cornucopia 2). There was a small chapel used by nuns dedicated to the Saints Peter and Paul. In 1535 Zaccaria ceded the house to the Dominicans who continued to use it as a church.
The Hodegetria icon, originally from Caffa and which previously belonged to the Dominican Church of St Maria di Costantinopoli located inside the walls of Istanbul, was moved to this church in 1640. In 1660 the church was ravaged by fire and only the icon was saved. A new church was built in 1702. The complex burned again during the great fire of Galata in 1731 and was rebuilt using wood. From 1841 to 1843 the Fossati brothers built the church as it looks now.
Towards the back of the church there is a strikingly dramatic crucifix, of the Christ contorted in agony.
The architecture of the church follows the form of a basilica, with a four-side altar. The cupola over the choir is sky blue and studded with gold stars. The rear wall is built into a section of Galata’s old Genoese ramparts. The church has several relics including those of St Renatus (found in the catacombs of Galata), St Thomas, St Dominic, St Peter and St Paul. The yard to the east of the church’s entrance is lined with sculptures and inscribed gravestones, most of them in Italian. More graves are contained in the church’s crypt.
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