The Church of St. Stephen of the Bulgars is a lovely church that sits in pretty park on the edge of the Golden Horn. What is so amazing about this church is that even though it looks like its made of stone, it is entirely cast in iron including the internal columns. Created in 1871 in Vienna, it was shipped to Istanbul where it was assembled.
The church was originally used by the Bulgarians who had broken away from the authority of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch. Today St. Stephen's is still used by the small, dwindling Bulgarian community.
Services are held on Sunday mornings.
If the church is not open at other times, look for the caretaker to let you in.
No admission fee
Since I am Bulgarian I was interested to see the Bulgarian St Stephen Church (Sveti Stefan Kilisesi), also known as the Bulgarian Iron Church. I tried to visit the church a couple of times but whenever I went there it was locked and I could not see how it looks like from the inside, so may be the next time I visit Istanbul I will have to consider the tip I had put at the bottom :)
What makes St Stephen Church so special and worth fisit is the unique architecture and the fact that it is a technical accomplishment - the only iron church in the East Orthodox world.
From the outside it looks beautiful but I must say that if you have not seen an Orthodox church before you should not built your idea on what you see there. The building has quite unusual architecture for an Orthodox church.
I would recommend you to go there at night time. The white church is beautifully lit and dominates the night landscape around.
BTW, if you are interested to learn more about the church and when and by whom it was built you might check the link below.
Some facts and history
The neo-Gothic Bulgarian Church of St Stefan is one of the most remarkable structures in Istanbul. Both the exterior and all the interior decor are made entirely of cast iron. The church was prefabricated in Vienna, shipped down the Danube and erected on the western shore of the Golden Horn in 1871 by the then-flourishing Bulgarian Orthodox community in Istanbul. Despite the dwindling numbers of the Bulgarian community, the church has been recently restored and repainted and is set in neatly tended gardens.
Unfortunatelly it is still more to be done. If you want to help, you can find info on the site quoted below.
Useful tip I found on the net
To visit the church interior you must find the caretaker, not an easy task as there are no formal visiting hours. Sunday morning, when services are held, may be the best time.
Also known as the Bulgarian St. Stephen Church, this unusual church is made of cast iron that was fabricated in Vienna and shipped down the Danube in sections and built on the southern shore of the Golden Horn in 1898. The Bulgarians of the Ottoman Empire used to pray at the churches of the Phanar Orthodox Patriarchy, but due to nationalistic movements, they were allowed a national church. The churches interior has a Greek Orthodox feel about it and is beautiful. It's a curious experience to knock against what looks like a marble column and hear the sound of iron!
The Bulgarian St Stephen Church (Bulgarian: Църква „Свети Стефан“; Turkish: Sveti Stefan Kilisesi), also known as the Bulgarian Iron Church, is a Bulgarian Orthodox church in Istanbul, Turkey, famous for being made of cast iron.
The richly ornamented church is a three-domed cross-shaped basilica. The altar faces the Golden Horn and a 40 m-high belfry, the six bells of which were cast in Yaroslavl, rises above the narthex.
The church belongs to the Bulgarian minority in the city. The Bulgarians of the Ottoman Empire used to pray at the churches of the Phanar Orthodox Patriarchy, but due to nationalistic movements, Bulgarians were allowed a national church in the 19th century, the Bulgarian Exarchate.
Initially, a small wooden church was erected on the shore of the Golden Horn between Balat and Fener squares (near Eyüp district), where the current church is located. A house was donated by the statesman Stefan Bogoridi and it was reorganized as a wooden church. It was inaugurated on 9 October 1849 and became an important site of the Bulgarian National Revival. The Ottoman royal decree of 28 February 1870 establishing the Bulgarian Exarchate was first read in the church.After the original wooden structure suffered from a fire, the larger current building was constructed at its place. An iron frame was preferred to concrete reinforcement due to the weak ground conditions. The construction plans were prepared by Hovsep Aznavur, an Armenian of Istanbul origin. An international competition was conducted to produce the prefabricated parts of the church, won by an Austrian company, R. Ph. Waagner. The prefabricated parts, weighing 500 tons, were produced in Vienna in 1893-1896 and transported to Istanbul by ship through the Danube and the Black Sea.After one and a half years' work, the church was completed in 1898 and inaugurated by Exarch Joseph on 8 September that year. The main skeleton of the church was made of steel and covered by metal boards. All the pieces were attached together with nuts, bolts, rivets or welding. In terms of architecture, the church combines Neo-Gothic and Neo-Baroque influences.
St Stephen was the product of 19th century experimentation with prefabricated iron churches. The British, who invented corrugated iron in 1829, manufactured portable iron churches to send to far-flung colonies like Australia. The Eiffel Tower's creator, French engineer Gustave Eiffel, designed iron churches that were sent as far as the Philippines and Peru. Now St Stephen is one of the world's few surviving prefabricated cast iron churches.
In addition to the St Stephen Church, there is another Bulgarian Orthodox church in Istanbul — the St Demetrius Church in Feriköy. You can read more about church on their web.site svstefan.com
The church of St. Stefan is an attraction mostly for Bulgarians because of its history being taught in school. At the same time there are not that many churches made entirely of metal. Any traveller with the zest for something extraordinary (nobody has seen this church, believe me) on top of the regular sightseeing list should consider a visit. Another unusual twist is the church's look - it resembles more the catholic tradition of building temples than the orthodox one.
Laying along the Golden Horn, this church was cast in metal in Vienna in 1871 and shipped to Golden Horn where was assembled.
( it is located on Mursel Pasa Caddesi in the area called Balat, unfortunately it was closed when I was there at noon, even if in my travel guide book it is written that it is open daily between 9.00-16.00 )
On the shores of the Golden Horn in the Balat/Fener part of the western suburbs is this amazing 19th century church.
St Stephen is the Bulgarian 'exarchate' church, created as a result of the recognisition of the semi-independence of the Bulgarian Orthodoxy from the Greek Orthodox Church.
The church is made completely of cast iron, having being cast in Vienna and shipped to Istanbul where it was erected in 1871 (a duplicate was erected in Vienna but this was destroyed during WWII).
Its not open to the public, but there's enough to be seen from the outside.
This neogothic church built in 1871 doesn’t really “fit” in the classical Istanbul postcard, but is really interesting. Can be visited in sundays and festivities.