Historic Bulgarian church in Istanbul reopens to prayers after seven-year restoration
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan oversaw the reopening of a 120-year-old Bulgarian church in Istanbul on Jan. 7.
“An opening like this carries a significant message for the international audience on my behalf. Istanbul has once again shown the world that it is a city where different religions and cultures exist in peace,” Erdoğan said, following speeches by Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and his Bulgarian counterpart Boyko Borisov.
“It is the responsibility of the state to ensure everyone can worship freely,” Erdoğan said, adding that Turkey has supported the restoration of more than 5,000 artifacts in the past 15 years.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov said efforts to “normalize” relations between Turkey and the EU in 2018 were needed.
Bulgaria took over the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union on Jan. 1.
The orthodox church, also known as St. Stephen Church, is located in the historic Balat neighborhood on the shore of the city’s Golden Horn.
The reopening follows major seven-year restoration works at the distinctive “iron church,” co-funded by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality in association with the Bulgarian authorities.
The original 19th-century wooden church burned down and was rebuilt in 1898 from prefabricated cast iron materials.
Speaking at the ceremony, Prime Minister Yıldırım underlined that the reopening of the church represents “an example of the tolerant atmosphere in Turkey.”
The Istanbul Municipality financed most of the restoration, which cost 16 million Turkish Liras ($4 million). The Bulgarian government contributed one million liras ($253,000) to the project.
On the basis of reciprocity principle, the Bulgarian government gave permission to restore the Friday (Cuma) Mosque in the city of Plovdiv, home to a sizable Muslim Turkish minority.