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ISTANBUL – The Bulgarian St. Stephen Church

The Bulgarian St. Stephen Church: A Prefabricated Marvel

The Bulgarian St. Stephen Church, also known as the Bulgarian Iron Church, is a unique Bulgarian Orthodox church located in Balat, Istanbul, Turkey. Famous for its construction from prefabricated cast iron elements, this Neo-Byzantine style church serves the Bulgarian Christian minority in the city.

Historical Background

Originally, Bulgarian Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire prayed at the Phanar Orthodox Patriarchate churches. However, the 19th-century Bulgarian nationalist movement led to the establishment of a separate Bulgarian ecclesiastical organization, the Bulgarian Exarchate, recognized by Sultan Abdülaziz in 1870.

The Original Structure

The first church on this site was a small wooden structure, donated by statesman Stefan Bogoridi, and inaugurated on October 9, 1849. This wooden church became a significant site for the Bulgarian National Revival and saw the reading of the Ottoman decree establishing the Bulgarian Exarchate in 1870.

The Iron Church

After a fire damaged the original wooden building, a decision was made to construct a more durable structure. Due to weak ground conditions, an iron frame was chosen over concrete reinforcement. The design was created by Ottoman Armenian architect Hovsep Aznavur.

An international competition led to the Austrian company R. Ph. Waagner producing the prefabricated cast iron parts. These elements, totaling 500 tons, were manufactured in Vienna between 1893 and 1896 and transported to Istanbul via the Danube and the Black Sea.

Construction and Inauguration

The construction of the iron church was completed in just one and a half years, and the church was inaugurated on September 8, 1898, by Exarch Joseph. The building features a steel skeleton covered by metal boards, with pieces joined using nuts, bolts, rivets, or welding. Architecturally, it blends Neo-Byzantine and Neo-Baroque styles.

Significance and Legacy

St. Stephen’s Church represents 19th-century experimentation with prefabricated iron structures. This method was pioneered by the British and utilized in various parts of the world, including designs by Gustave Eiffel. Today, St. Stephen is one of the few surviving examples of prefabricated cast iron churches.

Renovation and Modern Celebrations

The church underwent extensive renovation starting in 2011, funded by Bulgarian-Turkish cooperation, costing over ₺ 15 million. The renovated church was inaugurated on January 8, 2018, by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, marking its 120th anniversary.

St. Stephen Church stands as a testament to innovative architectural solutions and cultural heritage, continuing to serve the Bulgarian Orthodox community in Istanbul alongside St. Demetrius Church in Feriköy.

We highly recommend a visit to St. Stephen Church while you visit Balat. It is located opposite the tram station Balat and is easy to find.

Vuitton Travel and TURKEY Tourism USA will gladly assist you with your planning and reservations for Turkey. Our contact details are below and we prefer doing business face-to-face via Zoom/Skype or on the telephone. The way travel should be planned and reserved.

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