Top Byzantine historic sites in Istanbul

aerial view of buildings and flying birds

Istanbul, once the heart of the Byzantine Empire, is a treasure trove of historical sites that provide a glimpse into a bygone era. The city's rich cultural and architectural heritage is preserved in its monasteries, churches, and palaces, offering a unique experience for history enthusiasts. In this article, we will explore the top 5 tours of Byzantine historic sites in Istanbul, each offering a fascinating journey through time.

Key Takeaways

  • Visit the Monastery of St. Saviour in Chora to admire its stunning mosaics and frescoes.
  • Explore the Pammakaristos Church (Fethiye Camii) and its blend of Byzantine and Ottoman architecture.
  • Discover the remnants of Tekfur Palace, once a part of the Blachernae palace complex.
  • Experience the grandeur of the Pantokrator Church, one of the largest Byzantine religious complexes in Istanbul.
  • Walk through the ruins of St. Polyeuktos Church, a testament to the city's ancient architectural prowess.
Choosing between Athens and Istanbul? Check out our guide.

Monastery of St. Saviour in Chora


Originally built within a Christian complex outside the boundary of Constantinople’s walls, St. Saviour in Chora derived its name from its countryside setting, with ‘in chora’ meaning ‘rural’. The building we see today is a newer incarnation, having been built in the 11th century and turned into a mosque in the 16th century.

Byzantine Mosaics

Today, a highlight of visiting St. Saviour in Chora is its incredible set of Byzantine mosaics dating to the fourteenth century, when the church underwent redecoration. Hidden by plaster during its time as a mosque, these works now remain beautifully preserved.

Visitor Experience

  • Newly refurbished Chora Monastery with wonderful mosaics and frescos.
  • Lunch on the roof terrace of a nice restaurant.
  • Friendly and efficient transport.
The Great Palace mosaics that make up the museum have been dated between 450 and 550 AD and depict scenes from daily life, hunting, nature, and mythology rather than religious figures. Visitors can walk around and above the excavated mosaics and read detailed information points which describe the content and history of each mosaic section.

Pammakaristos Church (Fethiye Camii)

Historical Significance

Pammakaristos Church, also known as Fethiye Camii, is a remarkable example of Byzantine architecture and art. It served as an important religious center during the Byzantine era and later was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest.

Architectural Features

The church is renowned for its stunning mosaics and frescoes, which depict various religious scenes and figures. The intricate designs and vibrant colors are a testament to the artistic skills of the Byzantine craftsmen.

Visiting Information

  • Location: Fatih, Istanbul
  • Opening Hours: 9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
  • Entry Fee: 30 TL

Nearby Attractions

  • Monastery of St. Saviour in Chora
  • Tekfur Palace
  • Pantokrator Church
A visit to Pammakaristos Church offers a unique glimpse into the rich history and artistic heritage of the Byzantine Empire. Don't miss the chance to explore this historic site on your next trip to Istanbul.

Tekfur Palace

Tekfur Palace, also known as the Blachernai Palace, is the last residence of the Byzantine emperors. It has been transformed into a modern interactive museum that offers a great view of the ancient city walls. The palace is located in the Fatih district, which is rich in both Byzantine history and modern Orthodox life.

Restoration Efforts

In 2018, the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality announced plans to restore Tekfur Palace. The Cultural and Natural Heritage Conservation Board is overseeing the project, which aims to develop the site into an open-air museum. The plans include a timber walking trail for visitors, a museum, and a pool. Until the restoration is complete, the ruins are temporarily protected by fences.

Guided Tours

Our guide, Dogus Cosar, an archeological lecturer from Istanbul University, provided an insightful tour of Tekfur Palace. She was very knowledgeable and committed to organizing access to various parts of the site, including the mosques and other significant structures.

Visiting Tekfur Palace offers a unique glimpse into the Byzantine era, blending historical significance with modern interactive elements.

Pantokrator Church


The Pantokrator Church, also known as the Monastery of Christ Pantokrator, is perched on a hill offering stunning views of the Golden Horn. Built in the 12th century, this impressive structure was originally a large monastic complex that included a hospital. It stands as one of the most ambitious imperial undertakings in Constantinople following the reign of Justinian. Today, it has been converted into a mosque.

Historical Significance

The church has witnessed significant historical events. Bronze wreaths once adorned the joints between the drums, but these were taken by the Latin Crusaders during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottoman Turks removed the cross from the church.

Architectural Features

  • Monastic Complex: Initially, the church was part of a larger monastic complex that included a hospital.
  • Bronze Wreaths: These once covered the joints between the drums but were looted during the Fourth Crusade.
  • Conversion: The church was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest.

Visitor Experience

Visitors can enjoy breathtaking views of the Golden Horn from the hill where the church is located. The site is a must-visit for those interested in Byzantine art and civilization. The church is part of a broader tour that includes other significant Byzantine sites such as the St. Polyeuktos Church ruins, Aspar Cistern, and Pammakaristos Church.

If you are a fan of Byzantine art and civilization, this tour offers a unique opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Byzantine rulers who once called Istanbul home.

St. Polyeuktos Church

The St. Polyeuktos Church, though now in ruins, offers a fascinating glimpse into the grandeur of Byzantine architecture. This site is a must-visit for anyone interested in Byzantine history and art. The church was originally constructed in the 6th century and was one of the largest and most ornate churches of its time.


  • Explore the ruins of St. Polyeuktos Church
  • Learn about the history and myths surrounding this ancient site
  • Discover the architectural significance of the church

Historical Significance

The church was built by the noblewoman Anicia Juliana and was intended to surpass the grandeur of the Hagia Sophia. It served as a monumental example of Byzantine architectural innovation and artistic achievement.

Architectural Features

  • Columns and Capitals: The ruins still display intricately carved columns and capitals.
  • Mosaics and Frescoes: Although many have been lost to time, some remnants of the original mosaics and frescoes can still be seen.
  • Layout: The church's layout was designed to reflect the grandeur and spiritual significance of Byzantine religious architecture.

Visiting Tips

  • Best Time to Visit: Early morning or late afternoon to avoid crowds.
  • Guided Tours: Highly recommended to fully appreciate the historical context and architectural details.
  • Nearby Attractions: Combine your visit with nearby Byzantine sites like the Pantokrator Church and the Aspar Cistern.
Visiting the St. Polyeuktos Church ruins offers a unique opportunity to step back in time and experience the grandeur of Byzantine architecture and history.


Exploring the top Byzantine historic sites in Istanbul offers a unique glimpse into a civilization that significantly influenced the course of history. From the grandeur of the Monastery of St. Saviour in Chora to the hidden gems like the Aspar Cistern, each site tells a story of the Byzantine Empire's architectural and cultural prowess. These tours not only highlight the artistic and historical significance of these monuments but also provide a deeper understanding of the Byzantine legacy that shaped modern civilization. Whether you're a history enthusiast or a curious traveler, these tours promise an enriching experience that brings the past to life in the heart of Istanbul.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the top Byzantine historic sites to visit in Istanbul?

The top Byzantine historic sites to visit in Istanbul include the Monastery of St. Saviour in Chora, Pammakaristos Church (Fethiye Camii), Tekfur Palace, Pantokrator Church, and St. Polyeuktos Church.

What can I expect to see on a Byzantine heritage tour in Istanbul?

On a Byzantine heritage tour in Istanbul, you can expect to see ancient monasteries, churches, cisterns, and palaces. Highlights include the ruins of St. Polyeuktos Church, Pantokrator Church, Aspar Cistern, and the Chapel of St. John the Forerunner.

How long does a typical Byzantine walking tour in Istanbul last?

A typical Byzantine walking tour in Istanbul lasts around 2 hours and covers approximately 2.5 km (1.6 miles). Some tours may offer a full-day experience with lunch included.

Is a guide necessary for visiting Byzantine sites in Istanbul?

While it's possible to visit Byzantine sites on your own, having a guide can provide a deeper understanding of the history, art, and significance of these sites. Guides often share interesting stories and insights that you might miss otherwise.

Are the Byzantine sites in Istanbul accessible to everyone?

Most of the Byzantine sites in Istanbul are accessible, but some may have uneven terrain or stairs that could be challenging for those with mobility issues. It's best to check with the tour provider for specific accessibility information.

What should I wear on a Byzantine heritage tour in Istanbul?

Comfortable walking shoes are recommended as the tour involves a lot of walking. Additionally, wearing modest clothing is advisable as some sites may have religious significance.

Curtis Duggan

Curtis Duggan

Curtis is a serial tech entrepreneur, content creator and the host of the Remotely Serious podcast on the future of remote work and digital nomadism.


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