Tekfur Palace is one of the few structures that remain from the Byzantine Empire to today.
The Palace is situated in Edirnekapı but its gorgeous architecture tells nothing of the people who once lived within it. Lying between the Theodosios walls in Balat, the four walls that remain of Tekfur Palace watches over a wide vista that stretches from Pera to Yedikule and from the Princess Islands to Kadıköy. It is not known, since there is no epigraph on it, who built the Tekfur Palace. It was a part of the Byzantine Era Blahernai Palace Complex structures and it is not known what its original name was. The name ‘Tekfur’ is an Ottoman invention. Although the name lost its meaning with the collapse of the Byzantine Empire, the governors of the Byzantine were called ‘tekfur’ by the Ottomans. The palace was hence called Tekfur Palace in honor of the tekfurs who once inhabited it.
Life in Tekfur Palace
Tekfur Palace is significant in world art history since it represents a first in the civilian architectural style of Byzantium, is a part of the complex where the Byzantine Emperors settled after leaving the palace in Sultanahmet in the 11th century. As in Ottoman palaces, Byzantine palaces were comprised of many manor houses.
The Tekfur Palace was one of the manor houses belonging to the Blahernai Palace Complex. According to information obtained from Hayri Fehmi Yılmaz, an art historian and the coordinator of Foundation for Developing Cultural Consciousness, the middle floor of the three-storey palace was reserved to the palace dwellers. This floor had a beautiful panorama of the city. The ground and top floors were used for official purposes.
A Private Devotion Room
The front of the palace was built in the 14th century and opens to a small courtyard. Tekfur Palace was built as a double-building structure and has another manor house in its courtyard. There is a chapel on the city-side aspect of the structure. Although it is partially collapsed, this chapel can be described as a ‘private devotion room’. Hayri Fehmi Yılmaz explains that this chapel featured religious motifs and elements such as can be found in a church, and is interpreted as a ‘one-man devotion cell’.
Yılmaz says that ‘the Blahernai Palace Complex spanned a 100–180 thousand square meters area, and one should consider it to be a huge palace’. He asserts that this palace complex was composed of large gardens, terraces, churches and manor houses.
Located in a strategically interesting position, the palace looks at the city with one side and the outskirts of the city with its other. That is to say, it gave its occupants the opportunity to escape to the city or out of the city when necessary. It is thought that the Byzantine Emperors preferred the Blahernai palace to the Old Palace for this reason.
Tekfur Wall Tiles
It was used as a tile workshop in the 18th century, and wall tiles produced at Tekfur Palace still bedeck many mosques in Istanbul. These works of art are called ‘Tekfur çinileri (Tekfur tiles)’ and were produced by the masters brought from İznik (Nicaea). After the conquest of Constantinople, the palace was used for a short time. Later it was used as glass furnace and still later, in the 19th century, as a refuge for Jews. Finally in 1865 it became uninhabitable after a fire that caused the collapse of the intermediate floors.
To understand the former grandeur of the Tekfur Palace, it is worth considering the pots decorating the front of the palace. These pots are made of red brick and white stones, and are a stunning example of the combination of different materials. This decorative art, often seen in Bulgaria and the Balkan Peninsula (Why not see there after your trip to Istanbul? :), is otherwise only apparent in Tekfur Palace and in the belfry of the Saint Benoit French Lycée.
It is still possible to visualize the brilliant days of Tekfur Palace, despite its ruinous consider today. The overhangs at the front of the building were an inspiration for other architects and can be seen in late Ottoman architecture. Today, this unequalled building virtually challenges time.
A Byzantine in 21st Century
Tekfur Palace is cared for by the Fatih Municipality, and still exists as a three-storey, roofless building. The 17-meter-long basement, which opens to the front courtyard with four large arches, is divided into twelve sections each covered with high vaults. The double columns carrying the arches open onto the courtyard and their capitals were reproduced for the last restoration. There are niche-like cabinets with stone shelves at two sides of the windows in the large arches on the second floor wall facing the courtyard and on the four walls of the third floor.