The church of Hagia Irene is in the east side of Constantinople, at the outer precinct of the Topkapi Palace and in a distance of only 110m. northeast of Hagia Sophia.
According to tradition, its foundation is attributed to Constantine the Great (324-337), who built a grand church in the place of a smaller one. Hagia Irene operated as a cathedral till the construction of Hagia Sophia in 360 and again in 404-415, due to the restoration of Hagia Sophia after the fire of 404, caused by the riots for the exile of John Chrysostom. From the 5th century, the two churches comprised the complex of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and they were served by the same clergy.
Hagia Irene was destroyed in 532 during the episodes of Nika Riots and it was rebuilt from Justinian I (527-565) as a three-aisled basilica with dome, narthex and atrium. Its size and splendor could only be compared to Hagia Sophia of the Justinian period, while the central dome is the second largest in the byzantine architecture after the one of Hagia Sophia.
In the fires of 564, the atrium and the narthex were destroyed, while many damages were caused in the building by the earthquake of 26th October, 738. Its restoration was completed by Constantine V (740-775). From the 10th century, there are no references to the church, besides the one written by Pachymeres (1242-c.1310) for the coronation of Germanos, Metropolitan of Thracian Galatia, in 1238 at the church of Hagia Irene.
After the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 the church was never transformed into a mosque, probably because it was within the walls of Topkapi Palace. Due to its nearness to the office of Janissaries, Hagia Irene was used as an arsenal. In the period of 1846-187, it was used as a museum of antiquities and then as a war museum. In 1946, all the exhibits were removed in order to start the archaeological excavations. In the excavations of the decades 1950-1960 around the temple, architectural remains were unearthed on the south side, the skevophylakion on the northeast side. Furthermore, the discoveries made it possible to define the form of the atrium.
For years now, Hagia Irene is a hall for cultural events and from January 2014, it is open to the public on a daily basis.