My favorite spot in Istanbul- by Max Vetter

Istanbul is a city of many layers and architectural styles. To celebrate this diversity and the nomination to Culture Capital of 2010, we decided to ask some of our docents to share with us their favorite place in Istanbul.

Following our chat with Claire Karaz , we have now asked Vienna-bred historian/art historian Max Vetter to share his favorite spot with us. Here is what he had to say:

“The late Byzantine palace generally known by its Turkish name “Tekfur Sarayı” is a rare breed indeed. Located along the Theodosian Walls, a five minutes walk from the landmark Church of St. Saviour in Chora (a.k.a. Kariye Camii; a museum since 1948), the building is the only (standing) pre-Ottoman palace to survive in Istanbul. What is more, it is considered one of the finest (of the rarely) preserved residential buildings of the late Byzantine period anywhere.

It is not entirely known when it was built, but on stylistic grounds it can be dated to between the 13th and the early decades of the 14th century. This was a time of restoration of Byzantine imperial rule, now under the Palaiologian dynasty, following a 57-year long period of occupation of Constantinople by the crusading Latins. This was also a time in which the northeastern quarter of the medieval city (as opposed to the traditional centre at what is now Sultanahmet, with the triad of palace/hippodrome/Hagia Sophia) had become very prominent and a period in which in architecture much decorative use was made of brick, as can be still seen on the Tekfur Sarayı’s last floor.

Due to its secluded location within the Old Town and a lack of appreciation of the importance of the building, the charming Tekfur Sarayı remains an empty shell, the upper-floor constructions of the three-storied edifice having collapsed a long time ago.

While there have been signs and promises of restoration efforts in the past years, the building remains functionless and closed to the public. As of now, the palace illustrates how much of Istanbul still remains to be discovered, by visitors and local institutions alike.”

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