Hagia Irene Museum (Guided Tour)
#240 in Istanbul
Hagia Irene or Holy Peace, was a Greek Eastern Orthodox church built under the orders of Emperor Constantine I over the ruins of a pagan temple as the first church in Constantinople. It served as the church of the Patriarchate until the Hagia Sophia basilica was built.
Due to fires and earthquakes, the church suffered much damage and was restored on several ocasions.
After Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans, the chuch was relocated inside the walls of Topkapı Palace and although it was not converted into a mosque as most other churches, it still suffered damage at the hands of Ottoman soldiers when they used the building as an arsenal and warehouse.
Before the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, it served as a Military Museum for 70 years and was then closed for a long period. In 2014, it was restored and reopened as a museum. Today, it is a popular location for classical music concerts because of its excellent acoustics.
An amazing skip-the-line guided tour where you will be able to visit the beautiful former church.
Hours & Schedule
- Hagia Irene is included in your Topkapi Palace tour and is not available separately.
Please follow the time table and instuctions of Topkapi Palace tour.
How To Get There?
The tour starts in front the entrance of the Carpet Museum (Halı Müzesi), outside the Topkapı Palace.
The palace is located close to the Sultanahmet Square, next to the Hagia Sophia museum. It can be reached via the T1 Tram Line and then walking 5 minutes to the palace.
- The guided tours are performed in English.
- The tour starts from the front of the entrance of the Carpet Museum, outside the palace. Click on Get Directions above to find the location.
- The tour doesn't require a reservation in advance.
- Istanbul Tourist Pass holders do not pay admission at the Hagia Irene Museum.
- Children will be asked to present their passport at the entrance to confirm their age.
- Please note that this attraction cannot be accessed directly by presenting the digital Pass at the museum. You need to enter with the tour guide.
- The museum is closed for visits for half-day on the first day of Ramadan and Sacrifice Festivals.
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of the many historical wonders of Istanbul, Hagia Irene is the biggest
Byzantine church that hasn’t been converted into a mosque. Though it became a
weapon storage after the conquest of Istanbul, it was later converted into the
first museum project of the Ottomans, and today, it still serves as a museum,
plus as a concert hall. This unique place is awaiting its visitors, and if you
are one of them, here is everything you should know about it.
A Brief History of Hagia Irene MuseumIts name meaning “Holy Peace” in Greek, Hagia Irene was first built at the start of the 4th century, during the reign of Constantine the Great. It is the second church ever built in Istanbul, after Hagia Sophia. According to the legend, it originally gets its name from a woman named Penelope. She arrived to the city like many other Romans after Constantine made it the capital city. She was a Christian and she wanted people to know and accept Christianity. Despite her struggles, Romans did not listen to her and tortured her to make her reject Christ. They threw her in a well full of snakes, tied her to horses and dragged her away, but these did not harm her. After witnessing her miracle, Romans accepted Christianity. After that, Romans started to live in peace, and Constantine made her a saint, named her St. Hagia Eirene and built a church in her name.
Hagia Irene Museum as we know today is not the one that Constantine built, though. During the 532 Nika revolts, the museum was burned and destroyed. Justinian I rebuilt the church, only for it to be burned once again in the same century, though it only needed repairs this time. It got damaged again during the earthquake in 740, and got repaired again by the orders of the Emperor Constantine V. It was decorated with new mosaics and murals during this time too.
Mehmed the Conqueror took Istanbul from the Byzantines, he didn’t touch the
church. Rumor has it that he knew the story of Saint Hagia Irene and respected
it. Hagia Irene started to be used as an arsenal and a depot for military
equipment. After the weapons stored in the church started to age, it was
transformed into the first Ottoman museum ever by Sultan Ahmet III in 1726. He
brought different weapons and works of art from across the country and opened
the museum with these 2 separate sections. Hagia Irene Museum was moved to the
Tiled Kiosk in 1875 and various historical materials were brought to establish
a new military museum. It joined the Hagia Sophia Museum in 1939 after the
proclamation of the republic and was used as a military museum until its
transfer to the Turkish Ministry of Culture in 1978. It went under another
restoration between the years of 1973 and 1976 for moisture protection. After
this period, Hagia Irene was only used for special events and concerts by the
Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (IKSV) because of its high-quality
acoustic characteristics and impressive atmosphere, until recently it opened
its doors to visitors again as a public museum in January 9th, 2014.
It still hosts many art exhibitions and classical music concert often.
Inside the Hagia Irene MuseumThe first thing you will notice when you enter the Hagia Irene Church is its unique architecture. It is made of narthexes and abscises. The main dome is 15 meters wide and 35 meters high and it is supported by 4 big pillars. The middle court is empty and open just like the Hagia Sophia Museum. These characteristics give the church a good sense of scale when you first enter it, while simultaneously offering a great acoustic ability and enough room to fit many viewers.
many of the mosaics remain today, since the building has seen many different
repairs and restorations during its extensive history. There are a couple of
frescoes to be seen on the south side of the church which date back to the Iconoclastic
8th century, during the time of the earthquake and the reign of the
Emperor Constantine V. Most of the upper parts of the church was remade during
these years, including the black and gold cross mosaic that extends to the
semidome. There are also various inscriptions of Psalms verses around the Hagia
Hagia Irene Museum also houses a synthronon, which is made of rows of semicircular benches on top of each other. The clergy would sit on these during the times where Hagia Irene served as a church. This particular synthronon is the only one that remains from the Byzantine era in Istanbul. It has six rows to sit on.
Where is Hagia Irene?Hagia Irene is located in the first courtyard of Topkapi Palace in the Sultan Ahmet neighborhood. Because of its central location, it is very easy to access. If you are staying at Sultan Ahmet, you can easily find it by looking it up on a map application and walk there.
From Taksim, you have to take the Kabatas – Taksim funicular line to the Kabatas and hop on the Kabatas – Bagcilar tramway line. Get off at the Sultan Ahmet stop and from there, it is a 5-minute walk.
To get to the Hagia Sophia from the Asian side, you can take the ferries to Eminonu from Uskudar or Kadikoy and get on the Kabatas – Bagcilar tramway line there.
most of the roads near the Sultan Ahmet
are closed to the vehicles and the fact that the public transportation to the
museum is so easy, we do not recommend using your personal car for