Eski İmaret Mosque has been traditionally identified with the Monastery of Christ Pantepoptes ("Christ the All-Seeing"), which was founded by Anna Dalassene (c. 1025-c.1100), mother of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos. It is located on the fourth hill, near the Pantokrator Monastery (Zeyrek Mosque) and is a typical Constantinopolitan cross-in-square church of the Middle Byzantine Era.
There is some debate on its identity. Mango has argued that Pantepoptes was likely located in the area now occupied by the mosque of Sultan Selim. More recently, Asutay-Effenberger and Ellenberger, based on topographical evidence, suggested that Eski imaret Mosque should be identified with the Monastery of St. Constantine built by Theophano (c. 875-895 or 896), first wife of Emperor Leo VI, which would place the building at the end of ninth or the beginning of tenth century. However, regardless of the identification, in terms of style Eski İmaret Mosque fits well in the developments in Constantinopolitan architecture from the middle of the eleventh to the beginning of the twelfth century.
Its foundation date cannot be defined with absolute certainty, yet in all probability Anna Dalassene built her monastery in the beginning of her son’s reign (which started in 1081). Based on evidence we know that the Monastery of Christ Pantepoptes until 1187 possessed the islands of Leros, Leipsoi and Pharmakos (Farmakonisi), though it is not possible to name with accuracy the estates the monastery received, nor to estimate their real extent. Anna Dalassene, as one of the most powerful individuals in the empire during the first decade of the reign of Alexios, was able to make rich donations in the monastery she had recently erected, as well in other religious institutions. Particularly discernible is the care Anna Dalassene took of the Monastery of Christ Pantepoptes as well of the Myrelaion Monastery in Constantinople (an emperor Romanos I Lekapenos’ foundation, built in 920-922) in order that they receive important donations on estates. Anna Dalassene became a nun right after her husband’s death in July 1067. Dalassene retired at the Monastery of Christ Pantepoptes after 1095, where she died and was buried at the beginning of the 12th century.
The consecration of the monastic katholikon to Christ Pantepoptes is unique in the Byzantine history. No other monastery in the capital city (and, as far as we know, nowhere else in the empire either) from all those dedicated to Christ, ever bore this epithet. Anna Dalassene’s decision to dedicate her church to Christ Pantepoptes reveals a clear theological, as well as political statement. It was the main foothold for Anna Dalassene in the huge political struggle for supremacy over the interior of the Byzantine aristocracy in 1060s and 1070s. Christ Pantepoptes had a special symbolic meaning for Anna Dalassene, by operating as a guarantee for the rightness of her positions and her efforts as well as a judge to whom she could trust the fate of her adversaries from rival aristocratic families. Her descendance by using the epithet “pantepoptes” referred to her own authority and political legacy as “mother of Komnenoi”.
After the Fall of Constantinople by the knights of the Fourth Crusade, the monastery came under the authority of the Benedict monks of the monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore, while after the recapture of Constantinople by the Byzantines it returned to Orthodox hands. After the Fall of Constantinople, the church was converted into a mosque, for whose needs a minaret was built in the southwest corner of the church. Buildings of the monastery were used to house the clerical school and the poor house (İmaret ‘soup kitchen’ from which the Turkish name of the church derives) of Fatih Mosque - the mosque of Mehmed the Conqueror (where the Church of the Holy Apostles once stood). It is presumed that various buildings of the monastery were gradually destroyed by fire, while even the minaret of the Ottoman period is not preserved today except at foundation level. The monument was restored in 1970
Eski İmaret Mosque is a cross-in-square church, with a nine-bay naos measuring 10 X 11 m, a tripartite bema, a narthex, and an exonarthex. The latter dates to the Palaiologan period, but it replaced an open portico that likely was constructed shortly after the completion of the church in the late eleventh or twelfth century. Of particular interest is the three-bay gallery situated above the narthex, which opened to the naos through a tribelon. From the gallery one accessed two rooms located over the two western bays of the naos; the floor of these rooms was set higher than that of the gallery. The north and south walls of the gallery had openings - windows or doors - that perhaps gave access to stairs or outside structures. A cistern underneath the church has a similar plan to the church’s plan.
The exterior of the building has been altered, and it is possible that some modifications took place during the Byzantine period. The sloping roofs of the side bema apses, much lower than those of the main apse, are perhaps such an intervention. It has been suggested that the church originally had two rooms above the prothesis and diakonikon, corresponding to the ones above the western corner compartments of the naos, and external aisles communicating with the naos through the large tripartite openings on the north and south sides. The side aisles were demolished during the Palaiologan period. The evidence for both eastern upper-level chapels and outer aisles is very limited due to undocumented restorations in the second half of the twentieth century.
The church combines elements of the Macedonian church-building with experimentations that are about to become typical elements of the Komnenian church-building. The new elements are visible mainly on the church’s outer formation and decoration. The recessed small niches that shape the walls, the formation of the central apse with niches and windows, the corrugated cornice of the dome with the dog-tooth fret and the brickwork patterns and the use of stone testify the evolution of the 11th-century church-building. Therecessed brick technique, which spread the following decades in Constantinople, was applied to the church wall-masonry, while on its upper part ashlar, following the cloisonné masonry technique, was used for decorative reasons. Meanders and rosettes are used among other brickwork patterns, while the cornices were articulated with dog-tooth frets.
From Byzantine Studies by Paspates (1877)
Ebersolt & Thiers (1910)
Cistern plan by Forchheimer & Strzygowski
Plan by Marinis
Architecture and Ritual in the Churches of Constantinople: Ninth to Fifteenth Centuries by V. Marinis
Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls: Byzantion, Konstantinupolis, Istanbul by Wolfgang Müller-Wiener
Converted Byzantine Churches in Istanbul: Their Transformation Into Mosques and Masjids by S. Kirimtayif
Byzantine Churches of Constantinople (Byzantine Legacy Google Map)