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Study and Restoration of the Zeyrek Camii in Istanbul

Robert Ousterhout, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign / Department of History of Art, University of Pennsylvania, Project Grant 2005–2006

Fig. 1: Zeyrek Camii, east facade (Ousterhout 2005–2006)
Fig. 1: Zeyrek Camii, east facade.

The Zeyrek Camii (Monastery of Christ Pantokrator) represents the most significant monument in the city to survive from the period between Hagia Sophia (sixth century) and the Kariye Camii (fourteenth century)—the best known churches from the Byzantine capital, Constantinople. Built originally ca. 1118–36 by the imperial couple John II and Eirene Komnenos as three large, interconnected churches, the complex served as the core of the famed Pantokrator Monastery, an important site of Christian veneration, and as an imperial mausoleum, housing more than a dozen tombs of the rulers of an empire. The complex also played a key role during the Latin Occupation (1204–61), as well as during the Ottoman transformation of the city following the conquest in 1453, when it was converted to a mosque.

Fig. 2: Zeyrek Camii, west facade (Ousterhout 2005–2006)
Fig. 2: Zeyrek Camii, west facade.
With the permission of the Directorate of Pious Foundations (Vakiflar), we began a long-term project of documentation, study, and restoration in 1997–98 (when the building was listed on the World Monuments Watch list of endangered sites of world culture) for which Dumbarton Oaks has on two occasions provided fieldwork funds to support the documentation. During the period beginning in July 2005 and continuing into the fall, Prof. Metin, Prof. Zeynep Ahunbay, and I oversaw the completion of stone-by-stone measured drawings of the exterior facades of the building, of which a composite sample is attached with this report. The drawings were prepared by a team of advanced graduate students and young architects working primarily under the supervision of Prof. Zeynep Ahunbay.

At the conclusion of the 2005–06 season, the Vakiflar assumed responsibility for the oversight and financial responsibility of the project. At that point we had completed the restoration of the roof and domes, the upper west facades, the east facades of the north and central churches, replaced about 50 windows, and exposed and stabilized several areas of mosaic and fresco decoration. In short, the building has never looked better—at least in the last century,—but our involvement with the project has now ended.