Before the Hagia Sophia, there was Hagia Irene to serve as the main cathedral of Constantinople. Commissioned by Constantine I in the 4th century as one the earliest Christian churches on top of ancient paganic temples, Hagia Irene was never converted to a mosque when Ottomans captured the city in the 15th century. Being devastated by social upheavals, fires and earthquakes in the distant past, Hagia Irene was rebuilt several times and stands as a testimony to what Constantinople was once like.
After the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II conquered the city and made the old acropolis area the seat of his throne, Hagia Irene was used as an arsenal within the walls of Topkapı Palace courtyard. In the 19th century, it became the Imperial Museum -the first official institution dedicated to the artifacts found in the ancient ruins around the Ottoman Empire. This unique collection formed the nucleus of the Istanbul Archaeology Museums that was later founded in a neoclassical building inside the gardens of Topkapı Palace again.
Since 1973, Hagia Irene has served primarily as a concert hall during the music festivals organized by İKSV, the city’s leading cultural foundation. Although it opened its gates as a public museum in 2014, the domed building is celebrated for its excellent acoustics and still hosts concerts occasionally.
Hagia Irene has a very plain interior decoration and does not have any mosaics depicting Christ, or the Christian saints that are predominantly found in other Istanbul churches. The reason for that is the Iconoclastic period the Byzantine Empire had in the 8th-9th centuries, where all images were condemned and erased from Christian temples.
Note: The Museum Pass is not valid for the entries to this museum.