Iron Church attracts 300,000 visitors in two years
Over 300,000 people, mostly Bulgarian tourists, visited the Bulgarian St. Stephen Church in Istanbul since it was reopened two years ago, executives of a foundation overseeing the monumental building have said.
The 120-year-old church was reopened in a ceremony on Jan. 7, 2018, attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, after a seven-year restoration project.
At least half of the visitors to the church are Bulgarian tourists, according to the Bulgarian Exarchate Foundation in Istanbul.
“Almost none of the Bulgarians flocking to Istanbul last year returned to their country without visiting the Iron Church. Both the municipality and the governor’s office were very helpful to us. Those coming with tour operators were also pleased,” Vasil Liaze, president of the foundation, told daily Milliyet.
The historical church also hosted several concerts and arts events in the last two years.
“Eight concerts were held at the Iron Church since it was reopened. Six painting, photography and sculpture exhibitions were held in the gallery downstairs,” said Hristo Kopano, an executive of the foundation.
More concerts and events are scheduled take place during 2020, he added.
“Tourists from all over the world come here. Of course, the main destination is Bulgaria. It is not only a unifying place for Bulgaria but also for Istanbul, Turkey, Europe and the world,” said Angel Angelov, the Consul General of Bulgaria in Istanbul.
“Tourists are always the best envoys of a country,” he said, adding that the increasing number of Bulgarian tourists in Turkey will pave the way for collaboration in many areas between the two countries.
Also known as the Church of Sveti Stefan, or the Iron Church, the structure is noted as the world’s only surviving church made completely of iron and assembled in two years. It was opened in 1898 in Istanbul’s historical Balat district on the European side of the city.
Borissov thanked the church’s restoration team led by Fikriye Bulunmaz as well as Turkish authorities who had contributed to the restoration of the 19th century basilica.
“The St. Stephen Iron Church glistens like a jewel,” said Borissov on Feb. 12, 2019. “I am happy that today it is a functioning Orthodox church where festive liturgies are regularly held.”