The Monastery of Theotokos Pammakaristos was established as a female monastery and functioned as such throughout Medieval times. In addition to its monastic function, the Church of the Theotokos Pammakaristos contained tombs of its founder and his family members. Similarly, the later added was constructed to be the funerary chapel of its donors. Following the Ottoman conquest of the city in 1453, the monastery remained in use. In 1456 it became the seat of the Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church, which was moved there from the Monastery of the Holy Apostles. In 1490 Bayezid I attempted to convert it into a mosque, but its occupants succeeded in proving that the monastery was bestowed upon to the Patriarchate by Mehmed II. The monastery remained the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople until 1587. In 1591, the monastery church was converted into a mosque, changing its name to Fethiye camii (Victory mosque). The name was intended to commemorate the victory of Murad III over Georgia and Azerbaijan, and the conversion was intended to benefit the increasing Muslim population of the city. In 1640 the mosque was damaged in the fire and, according to a plaque on the south façade, was repaired only in 1845. First professional restoration efforts were undertaken by the General Directorate of Religious Endowments between 1936 and 1938. The building was not in use after the restoration until 1960 when its main space (without the parekklesion) started to be used again as a mosque. Concurrently, the parekklesion was restored by the Byzantine Institute of America. After it was given back its original fourteenth-century appearance, it was turned into a museum.
The monastery church () consists of three sections: the main church preceded by its own , the parekklesion attached to the south wall of the main church, and the which surrounds the main church on the north, west and south sides, and abuts the west façade of the parekklesion.
2.1. The main church
Archaeological studies have revealed Komnenian roots of the main church, attributed to the eleventh or twelfth centuries by different scholars. Some place its foundation in the reign of Michael VII Doukas (1071-1078), while others situate it in the Komnenian period. The latter dating is based on an inscription found on the cornice, now lost but recorded in an eighteenth-century manuscript, which mentions Adrian-John Komnenos, brother of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118), and his wife Anna Doukaina. Some scholars have maintained that the church dates to the twelfth century. This view is supported by the most frequently encountered on twelfth-century monuments.
The church, of standard was preceded by a , possibly added after the was constructed. A large colonnaded and vaulted was situated directly under the naos, acting as its substructure. Erecting buildings above cisterns was a common building practice in Byzantine Constantinople.
The church underwent major rebuilding in the late thirteenth century under the auspices of Micheal Glabas Tarchaniotes, a high dignitary and commander of troops under Andronikos II Palaiologos. Soon after his death in 1306, and probably between 1310 -1315, his widow Maria Doukaina Komnena Palaeologina Blacherna added a funerary chapel for her husband’s tomb to the south flank of the church.
2.2. Parekklesion (side chapel)
A long carved epigram found on the parekklesion’s south façade, inscribed by poet Emmanuel Philes, reveals that the addition was completed by Maria Glabas (later nun Martha) in dedication to her husband Michael Glabas Tarchaniotes:
My husband who, alas! has died to me
And gone forth from his house of clay
Do thou thyself settle in an incorruptible mansion,
Guarding also here the shrine of his remains,
Lest any injury should befall his bones.
O protostrator, these things, too, for thy sake I trow,
Writes she who erstwhile was thy wife, but now is Martha.
The chapel is of cross-in-square type, preceded by a narthex. Above the central space is a tall held on , which are supported by four marble columns with richly carved and painted capitals. The narthex is two-storied and covered by two minute domes. Four or five sepulchral were placed on its ground floor.
The emphatically tall proportions of the chapel are characteristic of the architectural style of this period. Of all Palaeologan structures in the capital, parekklesion of Pammakaristos monastery is the best representative of Late Byzantine trend towards progressive elongation of architectural forms, which was even more pronounced on the contemporary churches in Serbia and Thessaloniki.
Exterior decoration of the parekklesion is similarly representative of Late Byzantine style in architecture. The facades are constructed of ashlar blocks and red bricks separated from each other by wide mortar beds. Several courses of stone blocks alternate with layers of horizontally placed bricks in Roman building technique known as the opus listatum, which was characteristic of Constantinopolitan construction. The façades are articulated with multiply-recessed window frames, blind arches, round- and ogee-arched niches, and numerous courses of dog-tooth friezes. The south façade is divided horizontally into three zones, the lowest of which is separated by a marble string course. The vertical divisions, or bays, are of uneven width. The lack of symmetry and even rhythm, as well as the variety of shapes of architectural elements give the façade picturesque character, further enhanced by decorative specially-cut bricks and circular ornaments created in stone and brick. These features produce polychromatic effect and break the unity of the wall, creating a sense of mural plasticity and three-dimensionality.
In the second half of the fourteenth century the church was again altered, this time by an addition of an ambulatory running along its north, west and south façades, and partially enclosing the western façade of the parekklesion.
3. Later architectural interventions
The appearance of the composite structure was further changed after the church became a mosque. The apses of the main church and the ambulatory were destroyed and the interior extended eastward by an addition of a domed triangular area housing a mihrab. Most of the interior walls were removed to create a larger unified space. By removing the north wall, the parekklesion was also integrated into the main area of the mosque. Fenestration was changed to standard Ottoman window frames, making the interior considerably darker.
The work undertaken by the Byzantine Institute of America restored the parekklesion to its Pre-Ottoman state. Based on some indirect evidence, it is possible that the façades were originally plastered and painted; however, the restoration of 1960, in which all of the extant plaster was removed, prevents future research into this subject.
Interior decoration of the main church, restored by Michael Glabas in the late thirteenth century, has been lost. The only part of the painted program which survives includes the images from the life of the Virgin situated on the exterior south wall (now within the added south aisle), suggesting that painting church exteriors with decorative programs similar to those found in the interiors, may have been standard Byzantine practice, of which limited evidence survives owing to its being exposed to the elements.
The parekklesion is dominated by brilliant mosaics, which have been restored by the Byzantine Institute of America. Most of the extant mosaics are situated on the upper areas of the walls, on the vaults and in the main dome, and date to ca. 1310-1315 when the chapel was erected. Together with the mosaics from Hagia Sophia and the Monastery of Chora (Kariyye Camii), they are the most impressive mosaics preserved in the capital.
The main dome of the parekklesion is multi-lobed and its twenty-four sections are covered with gold mosaic. Consecutive sections feature full-length figures of Old Testament Prophets. At the apex is a with Christ Pantokrator. The bema and apse present the viewer with a composition: Christ Hyperagathos (the Supremely Good) in the conch of the main , and the Virgin and St. John the Baptist in flanking . The in the bema is decorated with medallions with the four Archangels: Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael. Scenes from the Feast Cycle are decorate the lunettes on the sides of the arms of the cross. The two preserved include the Baptism and the Ascension. Other areas are decorated with the portraits of bishops and monks, as well as with geometric and floral ornaments. The mosaics are highly sophisticated, with subtle colors and elongated figures in elegant poses that reveal Late Byzantine interest in classical antiquity.
A frieze with heraldic symbols, executed in champlevé technique, runs at window level. The use of this technique is characteristic of the Late Byzantine period, as is the inclusion of heraldry in Byzantine decorative vocabulary.