Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople


The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople is the symbolic headquarters of the Greek Orthodox Church, and one of the most significant sites in the larger Eastern Orthodox Church. It has been led by 270 Ecumenical Patriarchs since its establishment in 330 AD. This compound of buildings nestled behind the sea walls fronting the Golden Horn includes the beautiful 19th-century Patriarchal Church of St George.

To the Turkish government, the Ecumenical Patriarch is a Turkish citizen of Greek descent nominated by the Church and appointed by the government as an official in the Directorate of Religious Affairs. In this capacity the patriarch is the religious leader of the country's Orthodox citizens and is known officially as the Greek Patriarch of Fener (Fener Rum Patriği).

The Patriarchate has been based in a series of churches over its history, including Hagia Eirene (Aya İrini; 272–398), Hagia Sofya (Aya Sofya; 398–1453) and the Church of Pammakaristos (Fethiye Museum; 1456–1587). It moved to its current location in Fener in 1601.

The relationship between the Patriarchate and the wider Turkish community has been strained in the past, no more so than when Patriarch Gregory V was hanged for treason after inciting Greeks to overthrow Ottoman rule at the start of the Greek War of Independence (1821–32).

Current tensions are focused on the Turkish government's refusal to allow the the Patriarchate to reopen the Orthodox Theological School of Halki, located on Heybeliada in the Princes' Islands. Opened in 1844, the school was closed by government order in 1971. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is one of the organisations calling on Turkey to reopen the seminary.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Istanbul attractions

1. Patriarchal Church of St George

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Dating from 1836, this church is part of the Greek Patriarchate compound. Inside the church are artefacts including Byzantine mosaics, religious relics…

2. Phanar Greek Orthodox College

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Rising Hogwarts-like from the urban jumble, this Fener landmark, known locally as kırmızı kale (the red castle) for its castellated red-brick facade,…

3. Church of St Mary of the Mongols

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Consecrated in the 13th century and saved from conversion into a mosque by the personal decree of Mehmet the Conqueror, this is the only church in…

4. Church of St Stephen of the Bulgars

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Known as the 'Iron Church', this distinctive Gothic Revival–style building on the Golden Horn has an extremely beautiful interior, with its gilded iron…

5. Yavuz Sultan Selim Mosque


The sultan to whom this mosque was dedicated (Süleyman the Magnificent's father, Selim I, known as 'the Grim') is famous for having killed two of his…

6. Fethiye Museum

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Not long after the Conquest, Mehmet the Conqueror visited this 13th-century church to discuss theological questions with the Patriarch of the Orthodox…

7. Gül Mosque

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This mosque started life as the 11th-century Church of St Theodosia. Legend has it that one day before the Conquest, worshippers filled the church with…

8. Wednesday Market

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This busy weekly market sells food, clothing and household goods. It's held in the streets behind and to the north of Fatih Mosque.