The Surp Vortvots Vorodman Church (Children of the Lightning) in Kumkapi, was first mentioned in the Travel Accounts of Simeon of Poland.
The Agios Theodoros Aghiasma (Greek for ‘sacred spring’) in the church’s cistern proves that it used to be a Byzantine church.
It is also one of the best churches in Istanbul to visit and see.
Assigned to the Armenian community after the conquest of Istanbul, the church survived a couple of fires and several renovations. It has been a patriarchal church since 1641 and is now one of three known Armenian churches in Kumkapi, Istanbul. The last renovation was completed by Imperial Architect Kirkor Amira Balyan. Consisting of a cathedral and two chapels, the church was reopened for worship on October 14, 1828. The fact that this church is a member of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, a significant centre for all religions, shows that the Ottoman Empire was linked to various regions not only by a military-administrative system, but also by religious and social elements. In the 1940s the building was used as a chain and rope factory, and then it accommodated the victims of the Varto and Lice earthquakes. Now with the project administered by the Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture Agency, it will become a new cultural focus of the city. Surp Vortvots Vorodman Church is being transformed into a cultural centre, yet it is not a typical regeneration project for an abandoned space.
Just as architecture changes over time and it designs new structures for old religions, this building will host projects directed at different functions and goals, as well as the future. Abandoned for a long time, this precious Istanbul church will be rediscovered through arts events and architectural transformation. With these changes, the religious rituals and holy values of a community will meet art’s secular access for all. This ‘neoclassical’ confrontation may create a cleavage, or a confrontation which might be interesting to explore. It is the first time that the owners of a religious building in Istanbul will allow such transformation on their free will, instead of having to pass the place into other hands. The managers of the church foundation, who are also the owners of the project, believe that this transformation will contribute to the people living in the area and to Istanbul. They say that it will enrich not only the cultural life of the community but also that of the entire city. In this way, a centuries-old monumental building will be rearranged as a concert hall, exhibition space and conference hall. It is hoped that this regeneration project will be a leading example for other churches. In order to develop the architectural and artistic visions of the regeneration project, a holistic approach is being employed. Regular workshops are organized for architects and artists. Pluralistic deliberations are a must for such a significant work of cultural heritage.
Thus, its uses are being creatively redefined, while at the same time remaining respectful of religious obligations. It is also a good example of how cultural heritage can be preserved with different priorities. The restoration project was completed last month, and famous architects attended the first workshop. The discussion showed that the project at hand is not simply a technical one, but that it requires brainstorming from very different directions.
by KORHAN GÜMÜŞ – Photos by COŞKUN AYDIN – Istanbul 2010 ECOC Agency