The "Lantern" suburb

fene1The "Red Castle"

Old name: Petrion

Cramped and congested it may be but Fener is a fascinating suburb on the Golden Horn. It was once home to the Phanariote Greeks, descendants of the Byzantines who stayed on after the Ottoman Conquest and often rose to high office both in İstanbul and in the Balkan provinces. Of their once grand brick mansions only a handful survive -- one now houses the city's Women's Library, another a glass workshop.

The coast road was built on reclaimed land and on the inland side of it you can still make out traces of the ancient Sea Walls that, with the great Theodosian Land Walls, once guarded the city so carefully. In some places houses have been built directly onto the walls.fene2

Despite the fact that it was once a wealthy part of the city Fener fell on hard times in the 20th century and is only just recovering. Today it's filled with families who've moved here from elsewhere in the country and whose washing invariably festoons the streets.

Fener is also home to the Patriarchate, a walled enclosure inside which sits the mother church of Greek Orthodoxy. The Patriarchate is at its busiest at Orthodox Easter when latecomers won't even be able to get into the courtyard.

On 6 January (Epiphany), the date on which Orthodox Christians believe that Jesus was baptized, swimmers retrieve crosses thrown into Golden Horn during an ancient ceremony that takes place not only in Fener but also in other locations around the world.

Around Fener

Fener is mainly a place for gentle mooching with many minor treats to distract you rather than any one blockbuster attraction. The exception is the Greek Patriarchate which is a major drawcard for Orthdox Christians, especially the growing number of visitors from Greece. Today the centrepiece of the walled enclosure is a church that only dates back to 1720. Most of the ancillary buildngs were destroyed by a fire in 1941, their places now taken by unexceptional modern buildngs. However, if you walk into the garden behind the church you will find the original library still standing intact.

fene3Sealed Orta Kapısı (Middle Gate) of Greek PatriarchateInside, the church with its glistening gold panels is wonderfully atmospheric. It is also home to several specific treasures including a rare 12th-century mosaic icon of St John the Baptist built into the iconostasis; a second mosaic icon of the Panagia Pammakaristos (the Most Happy Mother of God); three caskets containing the remains of the early Byzantine saints, Euphemia, Omonia and Theophano; and a bishop's throne which may have been designed for one of the city's first patriarchs, St John Chyrsostom (347-407). 

On your way in or out of the compound pause to look at the middle of the three gates which is painted black and kept permanently sealed in memory of Patriarch Gregory V, hanged in front of it when the Greeks rose up in rebellion against the Ottomans in 1821. 

Just up the road in the Cibali direction stands the grand pillared and pedimented Maraşlı Rum Okulu (Greek School), established by Gregorios Maraşlı in 1901. An older name for Fener, Petrion (Stone Place), probably commemorates a castle rather like Yedikule that once stood on the coast near the site of this school.

Midway between Fener and Balat stands a real curiosity -- the Gothic-style Church of St. Stephen of the Bulgars which was made out of cast iron in Vienna in 1871, then shipped down the Danube and reassembled here right on the shore to serve as the Exarchate  of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church after it broke away from the Greek Patriarchate. It is currently under restoration.fene5

The skyline above Fener is dominated by an enormous redbrick building, nicknamed "the Red Castle", that is frequently mistaken for the Patriarchate but is, in fact, the Fener Greek High School for Boys built in 1881 on the site of a succession of educational buildings dating back to the very first years of the Ottoman occupation. Now co-ed, the school has only a few pupils these days but it's still private property and it's unlikely that you will allowed to go inside it. 


The coast road from Cibali to Balat has long been known for a string of restaurants serving işkembe çorbası (tripe soup), a popular hangover remedy.

The Tarihi Haliç İşkembecisi (tel: 0212-534 9414) is one such place that doubles as an unofficial memorial to Atatürk with hundreds of pictures of Turkey's first president on the walls.


Troya Hotel. Tel: 0212-531 4858

Transport info

Frequent buses from both Eminönü and Taksim run along the Golden Horn coast road, passing through Fener. 

The Golden Horn ferry used to stop at the Fener pier but has not done so for some time now.

Nearby areas






Epiphany in Fener: http://turkeyfromtheinside.com/blogbloggingaboutturkey/entry/85-tossing-the-cross-epiphany-in-fener%2C-istanbul.html

fene6Detail of interior of St Stephen of the Bulgars


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