St. Stephen was born in the early 19th century in architectural experiments in prefabrication and is made entirely of cast iron. The church consists of cast iron plates which were floated on cargo ships from Vienna across the Danube over the Black Sea through the Bosporus and then assembled on site.
According to a popular story, Sultan Abdülaziz was not inclined to allow the Bulgarian Orthodox minority of the city to build their church. The Sultan, who prescribed the construction of St. Stephen’s, “allowed” its construction in a way he certainly considered foolproof, and it must be completed within a single month. But like so many fantastic stories, the story of the Sultan’s challenge and Bulgarian triumph is not quite true.
The story of St. Stephen’s Church began when the Bulgarian government financed a competition for the design of the church, which was won by the Armenian architect Hovsep Aznavur. The government then began to award a tender for the casting of Aznavur moulds, which was eventually carried out by the Rudolph Philip Waagner Company. It succeeded in transporting all 500 tons of the dismantled church to its current location in the Fatih district of Istanbul. Although the church itself was built remarkably quickly by modern standards, it would still not have met the Sultan’s demands.
The only original wooden church in front of the Iron Church is the stone altar, which is still in use today. One of the few all-metal churches in the world was consecrated on 8 September 1898 and has been in constant use ever since.