CHURCH OF SERGIUS AND BACCHUS OR MOSQUE OF LITTLE HAGIA SOPHIA
STREETS OF KADIRGA
POMEGRANT TREE AT THE BAKERY WITH THE PERGOLA STREET
MOSQUE OF LITTLE HAGIA SOPHIA OR THE CHURCH OF SERGIUS AND BACCHUS
On the day I walked through the Hippodrome area in the Sultanahmet square I had planned to visit the Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church also known as the Mosque of Little Hagia Sophia. Walking down the hill where the Hippodromes walls at the Sphendone section still exists today towards the Sea Walls by the Marmara sea, I went through old neighborhoods of Istanbul; Kadirga, Cankurtaran,Gedikpasa, all tangled with each other along the railways.The houses here were the wooden old Istanbul houses which are very rare and can only be seen in old photographs and the old two or three story concrete apartment buildings built in the seventies . Some of these houses were with broken wood sidings, missing glasses on their windows and abandoned, others with people living in them, flower pots with red sardinias on the window sills.
A young woman is shaking a carpet from a second floor window while an older man with a white cap is sitting on a wooden fruit chest , playing with a rosary in his hands and watching people passing by. There are many tourist minibuses parked on the sides of the narrow streets. Single young women or couples with maps in their hands walking the old streets. Streets with convenient stores called “ bakkal dukkani”, boutique hotels, and pomegranate trees reaching like an ivy into the open windows of the apartment buildings, and pergolas with grape leaves still green in autumn.
On the left side of the street far away I saw the dome of a hamam , an old Türkish bath. The Cardakli Hamam or bath under the pergola, was built in 1503 by the Sultan’s chamberlain Huseyin Aga on the Cardakli Firin Sokagi, the bakery with the pergola street. At one time the hamam is said to have a terrace like a balcony on top under a pergola of grape leaves which led to the entrance of the intermediary room of the bath before going into the hot steam room. The Greek citizens living in the area always believed that the hamam was once built by the Emperor Constantine since it had the characteristics of an Byzantine bath rather than a Turkish one. As it was stated on the Ottoman inscription of the hamam’s front door, the bath was built as a trust by Huseyin Aga and all of it’s income was allocated to the nearby mosque of Little Hagia Sophia. Nobody knows how, but in 1918 the hamam changed hands and transferred from a foundation to private entrepreneurship. Immediately after this change inside of the hamam was knocked down and changed to a storage depot and in later years to a workshop. Today the ancient bath is an abandoned building with the ivy and gallows of grape leaves on top extending all the way to the old fountain at the end of the street. Near the fountain there is a little restaurant called the Historic Fountain Restaurant. The fountain is almost a replica of the marble, one sided fountain I had seen walking by the walls of Sphendone with the inscription saying; Coğalzade Rüstem Paşa Fountain.The inscription by the hamam states that it was built in 1554 by Rüstem Pasha, the famous son in law of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. But as far as Coğalzade Rüstem Pasha, I have no knowledge who he was.
HILLY STREETS OF KADIRGA
HAMAM WITH THE PERGOLA
SADRAZAM RUSTEM PASA FOUNTAIN
STORY OF SERGIUS AND BACCHUS
Before visiting the Mosque of Little Hagia Sophia let me give you a little history about this ancient church of Byzantine.The district Little Hagia Sophia mosque is located in is called Kadirga, which means an ancient war ship or galley. The name derives its origins from the times of emperor Justinus who in the 4 th Century A.D. facilitated the building of an harbour known as Portus Novus for the Byzantine warships. Initially the Ottomans kept using this port for their imperial fleet and docked their kadirgas here, but for some unknown reason in the later centuries of their reign they abandoned the harbor and closed off the area with high walls. The ancient harbour of one time is located today at the inland at Kadirga Square where the main street of the district called Harbor Street passes through. The Little Hagia Sophia is located there on a side street by the railroads, South of of the Harbor Street. What we call Little Hagia Sophia today was built in the year 527 A.D. by emperor Justinian to commensurate two Roman soldiers named Sergius and Bacchus.These two Roman soldiers were tortured and murdered in the year 323 A.D. because of their Christian beliefs. First Sergius was killed and afterwards Bacchus was beheaded and with time these two soldiers were first raised to sainthood by the Roman and Byzantine armies and later became a sect within Christian religion with many followers. Since these two Romans were very close to each other they were always associated in the past and even today with gay people. Parades are still done in their name in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.
Two centuries after the death of Sergius and Bacchus, the future emperor Justinian was tried in court with the claim that he was trying topple Anastasius from power. One night while Justinian was held in prison, emperor Anastasius saw Sergius and Bacchus in his dream The two saints told him that Justinian was innocent of the plot and he needed to release him. Listening to what the two saints told him in his dream, the emperor freed Justinian and he was saved from death penalty. When eventually Justinian became the emperor of Eastern Roman empire he remembered the miracle of the two saints in saving his life and ordered Anthemius to build a church in the memory off Sergius and Bacchus. Next to the grounds where the architect supposed to build the church, there was a second ancient church in the form of a Basilica. Anthemius built the new church next to the old one and since the twin churches were so close to each other, a single courtyard was used to encompass both with the same entrance to it. Most people believe that when architect Anthemius made the blueprints for the Sergius and Bacchus church he had improvised the famous Hagia Sophia's plans, which he was going to built with architect Isidore .As a matter fact the ground plans of both churches were exactly the same. The biggest characteristics of the church was that it had eight circular and eight rectangular domes all of which were shouldered by eight columns. In the years to come this type of dome construction was going to be typical of all Byzantine churches. Unfortunately nothing has survived to our day from the first church which was next to the Sergius and Bacchus church. In the sixteenth century during the reign of Sultan Beyazit II. , the Sultan’s Head Chamber Huseyin Aga converted the church to a mosque and from that day on the church was referred as the Mosque of Little Hagia Sophia. It is a peculiar coincidence that , following an embezzlement investigation Huseyin Aga was tried in the court and was beheaded just like Bacchus. According to the legend he walked with his own head in his hands and fell on the ground of the mosque's courtyard where his tomb was built and still stands today.
Picture of Sergius and Bacchus:http://www.sspp-tucson.org/icon_ornaments_r-w.html
THE LITTLE HAGIA SOPHIA MOSQUE
The entrance to the Little Hagia Sophia Mosque is through a wooden gate opening to the courtyard which is surrounded with high brick walls. Inside the courtyard the walkways are covered with cobblestones, old oak trees surround the area preventing the beautiful view of the mosque from the outside. On the right hand side of the courtyard is Huseyin Aga’s medrese, a gallery of eighteen shops in an rectangular setting, still used today in displaying arts and crafts ;among them a pearl workshop, jewelry shops, gift shops, Uzbek arts and craft displays, an antique book and calligraphy store. In the middle of the gallery is an octagonal sadirvan with several fountains for ablution before prayer.The old church made of red brick, typical of Byzantine churches of the era ,has an added front section, like in all Ottoman courtyards with six white columns made from carved stones shouldering five domes on top. The columns in the front are in total harmony with the minaret which was added when Huseyin Aga converted the church to a mosque. In the backyard of the mosque there is is “hazire”, a small cemetery with Ottoman tombstones and in the center Huseyin Aga’s tomb called “turbe”.The unfortunate man who converted the church to a mosque, who also built the medrese and kulliye, a school and shops to support the mosque, set a foundation to use the income of a hamam to support the mosque, was beheaded here.In some books about mosques and tombs of Istanbul his turbe is still referred as the “Turbe of the Huseyin Aga with a cut off head”.
As soon as you enter the Little Hagia Sophia you realize that you are in ancient Byzantine church, similar but without the glamor and magnificence of Justinian’s Hagia Sophia. Inside the church there are several dark green colored columns with black mottles and roman inscription on their vaulted marble tops and bases . The domed ceilings with crystal chandeliers and the wall to wall carpet are in blue and white collars, decorated with mastership of Ottoman art of calligraphy. An attached second floor in the form of a balcony circles the bottom floor high above the first floor, with vaulted columns parallel to the ones below. There are so many dark green columns around, that the place looks like a temple with one thousand and one columns, or a like a basilica turned into a mosque. I went up the stairs to the surrounding balcony, the sun sunlight was shining through the windows and stained glass to the chandeliers and dark green columns and was creating an atmosphere of a jewelry box. Inside the empty women’s prayer lounge I touched and felt the roman inscriptions, wishing to be able to read. Then I went back down the stairs behind the muezzinler mahfili, the fenced in lodge of the imams who call people to prayer. Here the floor has a hole about sixty centimeters under the ground, covered with a thick glass, inside resembling a dried out sacred well. Under the glass there are several foundation stones, at least fifteen hundred years old and a cavity in one of them with metal coins in it.
As I left the Little Hagia Sophia mosque I was happy to have discovered a beautiful ancient building which most istanbulites had never seen. At the exit of the courtyard there was a street salesman with a huge heap of pomegranates on his portable counter, squeezing pomegranates with a juice squeezer. With my tour friends we all had a glass of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, asked the salesman for direction to our next stop, the mosque of Sokullu Mehmet Pasha and then kept on walking. .