The St. Stephen Church is located in Balat, on the banks of the Golden Horn. It is a legacy of the Bulgarian minorities from the Ottoman period.
Its Turkish name is Sveti Stefan, but it is popularly called “demir kilise”, the “Iron Church”.
The statesman Knjaz Stefan Bogoridi donated a wooden house to the community of the Bulgarian Orthodox Christians in Constantinople. On October 9, 1849, it was inaugurated as a church and henceforth used for religious services.
After the wooden church was damaged by a fire in the 19th century, the Bulgarians obtained a planning permission from the Sultan and were allowed to build a new church next to the wooden church. The new church was built by the famous Armenian architect Hovsep Aznavur and inaugurated by Joseph I, “Saint Stephen”, on September 8, 1898. The old wooden church was demolished shortly thereafter.
Architecturally, the construction of the cross-shaped St. Stephen Church has both, Neo-Gothic and Neo-Baroque elements. Its supporting frame is made entirely of steel, the outer facade consists of cast-iron plates and explains the second name of the building “Iron Church”. The 40-meter high belfry has six bells, which were cast in Yaroslavl. The wooden iconostasis inside the church was also made in Russia, Moscow.
The Bulgarian Church is still used by the Orthodox community today. Once one of the important sites of the Bulgarian National Revival, the St. Stephen Church on the shores of the Golden Horn now attracts stream of visitors with its splendor.
After restoration work on the church building, the church was reopened in 2018.