Extract

Dome from Dome

Built as way stations for Orthodox pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land or Mount Athos, the rooftop churches of Karaköy are a forgotten corner of the Motherland in the heart of Istanbul. By Owen Matthews. Photographs by Simon Wheeler

  • Serried rows of icons gleam against the startling blue gloss paint of a side chapel in St Andrei's. Built with donations from believers all across the Russian empire, each church in Karaköy is the offshoot of a Russian monastery on Mount Athos

Karaköy is a melancholy little patch of Istanbul, humbly nestling between the foot of Galata hill and the unlovely deep-water steamer quays at the mouth of the Golden Horn, now used by rust-streaked Ukrainian ferries and the occasional multi-storey cruise ship. It is an unadorned and unbohemian version of Galata, its handsomer, better-situated neighbour…

But look up from the metal-working shops of Mumhane Sokak and you see a curious thing – perched on the roof of one of the buildings is a sky-blue onion dome topped with a faded Orthodox cross. Further down the street, another, and round the corner a third and fourth, all with a hundred yards of each other, a strange collection of hidden churches that seem to have migrated upwards from the stuffiness of the street to be closer to the air and the sky.

The rooftop churches of Karaköy are one of the last surviving vestiges of Russian Constantinople – a community, which, during a brief and incandescent flowering between 1920 and 1924, transformed and illuminated the city before moving westwards and petering out. Though their heyday came when they were the heart of post-Revolutionary Russian émigré life, the churches and the buildings they sit on predate the Revolution by a generation. They were originally built as way-stations for Russian pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem and Mount Athos during a more confident and more pious age of Russian history. In their small way they formed a tiny imperial toehold in the city whcih Russia’s tsars still dreamed of ruling…

To read the full article, purchase Issue 28

Issue 28, 2003 Capturing the Black Sea
£30.00 / $39.22 / 246.83 TL
Other Highlights from Cornucopia 28
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Issue 28, 2003 Capturing the Black Sea
£30.00 / $39.22 / 246.83 TL
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