Hagia Irene is located in Sultanahmet, Istanbul. It is in the Topkapi Palace complex. It is one of the last few churches in the city that had not been converted into a mosque after the Ottoman Empire seized Constantinople. Instead, the church was used to store weapons by janissaries over the centuries. In 1869, it was converted so it could be used as an artillery museum. This was the first museum in the Ottoman Empire.
The structure has a dome that is thirty-five meters high. Inside the church there is an atrium, many frescoes, along with a large mosaic black cross that has a gold background. It dates back to the eighth century. Towards the rear of this church there is a lovely courtyard where many Byzantine emperors had once been laid to rest. Many of these graves can now be seen at the three main Archaeological Museums.
It is a very old Christian church that was commissioned in the fourth century by Constantinople, a Byzantine emperor. The original structure was built with wood and in 532, during the Nikean Revolt, it burned down. The church was named for the Saint, Irene. Emperor Justinian had the Eastern Orthodox Church rebuilt at the same time the Hagia Sophia was being built. The church has been restored many times over the years due to earthquake and fire damage.
The museum was given to Turkey’s Ministry of Culture in 1978. Today, Hagia Irene can only be seen by special arrangement. It has been used for concerts because of its wonderful acoustics. The yearly Istanbul Music Festival takes place during the summer months and they have some of their main performances at the Hagia Irene.
Authorization to enter the Hagia Irene is obtainable from the Hagia Sophia Museum’s Directorate, and their office is right next to the Hagia Sophia. Authorization is only given to groups of ten or more.