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Turkey's historic Iron church reopens after 7-year restoration

(YouTube/Anadolu Agency)An aerial view of the historic Iron Church in Istanbul is seen in a screen capture of a video from Anadolu Agency.

A church built by the Bulgarian community in Istanbul in the 19th century reopened on Sunday after a seven-year restoration project.

Sveti Stefan, also known as the "Iron Church," is said to be the only church that was mainly made of iron. It was built on the banks of Istanbul's Golden Horn in 1898 with 500-tons of prefabricated iron components from Austria, according to Voice of America.

Vasil Liaze, head of a foundation overseeing the church, stated that the restoration project had cost TL 16 million ($4.3 million) and that TL 15 million ($4.01 million) of the budget was provided by the Turkish government.

The opening ceremony on Sunday was attended by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.

Erdoğan stated at the ceremony that the government has the responsibility to ensure that everyone, no matter their beliefs, has the right to freely practice their faith.

"Certain bitter memories in history should not be allowed to taint the long history of living side by side," the president said, adding that the government has been working since the beginning to restore places of worship of all citizens.

Borisov had vowed that Bulgaria would work to "normalize and improve" Turkey-European Union relations as his country assumes the presidency of the EU.

According to Daily Sabah, the Bulgarian Metochion, a renovated addition of the church, was reopened in 2016 and hosted an exhibition of the history of the Bulgarian community in Turkey.

The three-story building was originally built as an addition to the church but it was gradually turned into a community and cultural center for the Bulgarian community in Istanbul. Over the years, the Metochion had been converted into a school, a printing house and a nursing home before it was abandoned by the community.

The Turkish president contended that the government has supported the restoration of more than 5,000 historical artifacts in the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and the Balkans in the past 15 years.

"We do not separate freedom of worship in the Iron Church from the freedom of worship in the Muradiye Mosque in Filibe [Plovdiv]. That is why my friend Boyko bringing Bulgaria's Chief Mufti Mustafa Aliş to this ceremony is important," he said.

Another historic church in Istanbul's Edirnekapı district opened in early November in a ceremony attended by Turkish and Greek Orthodox dignitaries.

Erdoğan also pointed to other examples of state-sponsored restoration of several churches, including the Great Sinagogue of Edirne, the Aya Nikola Church in Gökçeada, the Syriac Catholic church of İskenderun, Diyarbakır's Sur Armenian Protestant Church, the Nizip Fevkani Church in Gaziantep and the Taksiyarjis Church in Cunda Island.

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