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News 08 Jan 18

In Pictures: Historic Bulgarian Church Reopens in Istanbul

After seven years of restoration, a 120-year-old Bulgarian church in Istanbul, overlooking the Golden Horn, has reopened in the presence of Turkish and Bulgarian leaders. 

Mariya Cheresheva

A church that has played an important role in Bulgarian history reopened on Sunday in Istanbul in the presence of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and Bulgaria’s Prime Minister, Boyko Borissov.

Patriarch Neofit of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople led prayers together in the newly renovated Church of St Stefan.

"This is a great day, and a very good investment in the future. Let us show the whole of Europe and the Christian world that we can improve relations with our biggest neighbour [Turkey]. Small as we are, we will try to contribute to this mutual understanding, Borissov said on Sunday.

Yildirim greeted Bulgaria's assumption of the EU Presidency.

"During your Presidency good messages have started to appear from our European friends. We had no problems with Europe before, but let us today send the message: 'Let us be tolerant,'" the Turkish Prime Minister said.

President Erdogan said the reopening of the landmark church during the Bulgarian presidency of the EU sent an important message to the international community.

After decades of neglect, the church, also known as the “Iron Church”, because it was made of metal, has gone through a full restoration, which started in 2011.

Over 40 Turkish restorers and builders worked on the project, co-funded by the Turkish and Bulgarian states.

The church was designed by an Ottoman architect of Armenian origin, Hovsel Aznavour, and opened in 1898.

It replaced an older Bulgarian church in what was then Constantinople, known as "The Wooden Church", whose opening was made possible by the Sultan’s "firman", or decree, in 1849.

The Sultan's decree establishing the Bulgarian Exarchate in 1878 was first read out in this building.

The Exarchate was an autonomous ecclesiastical organisation under the control of a prelate known as an Exarch. Its formation effectively freed the Church in Bulgaria from Greek domination and helped spur the Bulgarian national revival – which resulted in the formation of a Bulgarian principality in 1878.

The Wooden Church's successor, the current Iron Church, represents a mid-19th-century experimental trend towards the construction of cast-iron buildings, and combines neo-Baroque, neo-Gothic and Byzantine architectural styles.

The church, which is a part of Istanbul’s cultural and historic heritage, is celebrating its 120-year-anniversary this year.

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