I vaguely remember visiting the Chora Church on our 1st trip to Istanbul when we had a guided tour with the cruise line, it is located quite a distance from the city center.
To get to the Chora, we took a bus from Eminou and fortunately we had a map that had enough detail where we could work out where to get off. From the bus stop, it was a short 5 minute walk to the Church.
Chora Church (Kariye Camii in Turkish) is the most interesting Byzantine church after Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The importance of the church does not come from the building itself , the frescoes and the mosaics are superb and reflect the magnificient heritage of Byzantine Art. The Chora Church Museum is open every day from 9 a.m to 4:30 p.m except Wed.
The word "Chora" means "in the country" in Greek because of the original church which was outside the city walls. There are no remains left from the original church and the first form of the present structure dates back to 11C. The church was founded by Maria Doukaina, mother-in-law of Alexius Comnenos I between 1077-1081. Today's church was constructed after two centuries, the walls were revetted with superb mosaics and a pareclession was added decorated with beautiful frescoes. The founder of the church was Theodore Metochites who served as a prime minister during the time of EmperorAndronicus Palaeologus I. He was also an astronomer, poet, theologian and philosopher. Actually he lived a very sad life, after Palaeologus was replaced by another emperor, he was sent to exie. After he came back to Konstantinople, he devoted himself to the church as a monk and he died there. Early in the 16C, the church was converted to a mosque by Atik Ali Pasha and the mosaics were covered with plaster. In 1948, it was restored by Byzantine Institute of America and opened as a museum in 1958.
This was the church center of a Byzantine monastic complex dating back to the time of Constantine though the present building dates to the 12th century and the main decorations are from the 14th century. Like other Byzantine churches, this was converted into a mosque, but unlike many of the others, like Aya Sofya, most of the magnificent mosaics were covered only by wooden screens - some of the lower mosaics were removed and the frescoes were whitwashed. The building was converted into a museum in 1948 and the only remaining Islamic element is the 19th century minaret found on the outside corner. Along with the Aya Sofya, this is the most important Byzantine monument to be found in Istanbul. See the travelogue for more. Next door is the Asitane Restaurant, highly recommended.
Lots of information regarding the church, the decorations, the neighborhood and the process of restoration to be found on the included website!
Ok, the church is worth to visit but not close to other touristic objects. So if you are very interested in history of churches then this place is for you - otherwise there in Istanbul are other interesting objects to visit.
Chora Church (Kariye) has a history dating back to early 5th century. However, the major part of the current building comes from 11th century. In the beginning of 16th century it was converted into a mosque by Ottoman rulers. In 1948, restoration works started and Chora Church ceased to serve as a mosque. From 1958 onwards, it started to be a museum which became a tourist magnet after Hagia Sofia. The amazing mosaics and frescoes are the highlights of this museum. I prefer not to get you bored with details on all these mosaics and frescoes as you can find these on many resources. I have uploaded 2 videos showing the interior details of Kariye and that could tell you more than I can write here. You can find details about the exact location, admission hours and fees from the website provided below. Just don't forget : Kariye is not to be missed!!!
Known officially as the Kariye museum, this now mosque used to be the Church of St. Saviour in Chora and is considered to be one of the most beautiful examples of a Byzantine church, thanks to its amazing fine mosaics and frescoes. It was originally built outside the walls of Constantinople, to the south of the Golden Horn, and dates from 1077-81, although a previous church was built on the site in the 5th century.
The powerful Byzantine statesman Theodore Metochites endowed the church with much of its fine mosaics and frescos of the interior which was carried out between 1315 and 1321. Around 50 years after the fall of the city to the Ottomans (in 1453), Atik Ali Pasha, the Grand Vizier of Sultan Bayezid II, ordered the church to be converted into a mosque — Kariye Camii. Due to the prohibition against iconic images in Islam, the mosaics and frescoes were covered behind a layer of plaster and were, I think, only revealed in the 1940's and 1950's when they were then opened to the public as a museum.
Open: 9am-5pm Thur-Tue. Admission: TL15.
The interior of the Church of St Saviour in Chora consists of outer and inner narthexes (halls), a square domed nave, and a parekklesion. The latter is a funerary side chapel, whose walls, ceilings and dome are decorated with fine frescoes depicting scenes from the Old Testament, and which once contained the tombs of the founder of the church and his family. The rest of the church is rather different; polychrome marble encases the lower walls, while the upper walls, ceilings and domes are entirely covered with exquisite mosaics depicting the lives of Jesus and Mary. Though much has perished, enough of the mosaics has survived to illustrate the splendour this relatively small church had once enjoyed. The nave itself is square-shaped, covered with a dome and contains an apse on the eastern side. The 16th century marble mihrab (prayer niche) installed by the Ottomans remains in the apse, placed at a slight angle in the direction facing Mecca. Nowadays, visitors enter the church through a side door that leads into a vestibule outside the parekklesion, and leave via the main entrance in the outer narthex.
Overshadowed by the more famous mosaics, the frescoes of the Church of Saint Saviour in Chora are just as extraordinary. They date from the same period, the early 14th century, and depict scenes from the Old Testament surrounding death and resurrection. The frescoes are painted on the walls and ceiling of a funerary side chapel, the parekklesion, separate from the rest of the church where the mosaics are located. This side chapel once contained the tombs of the founder of the church and his family. After the conversion of the church into a mosque, the frescoes were completely covered in plaster and forgotten for four centuries. They were only revealed during the restoration and conversion of the church into a museum in the mid-20th century. Attached are a few photos of the stunning frescoes.
For more photos of these amazing frescoes, take a look at the travelogue: "Church of Saint Saviour in Chora: Frescoes."
The extraordinary mosaics of the Church of Saint Saviour in Chora make this church-mosque-museum one of Istanbul's greatest treasures. Except for the side chapel, the entire church's upper walls, ceilings and domes were once covered in mosaics depicting the life of Jesus and Mary, added in the early 14th century. When the church was converted into a mosque following the Ottoman conquest, the mosaics were covered in plaster to hide the images in accordance with Islam's prohibition on human depiction. The mosaics were forgotten for some 400 years until the mid-20th century when the church underwent a restoration and conversion into a museum. Unfortunately, a lot of the mosaics perished, possibly even before the Ottoman conquest, but what has survived is astonishing. The most notable mosaics are those that depict Emperor Theodore offering the church to Jesus and those that show the Genealogy of Jesus.
For a detailed look at these mesmerising mosaics, go to the travelogue: "Church of Saint Saviour in Chora: Mosaics".
Istanbul's most impressive Byzantine mosaics are found in this former church, once known as the Church of Saint Saviour in Chora. Its name, "in Chora", is Greek for "in the fields" in reference to the fact that the church was originally surrounded by fields outside the walls of Constantinople. This goes back to the first Chora church which was built in the 5th century AD, before the Theodosian walls enclosed it within the boundaries of the city. The church was rebuilt in the 11th century and heavily restored after a 13th century earthquake, but its mosaics and frescoes were only added in the early 14th century. After the Ottoman conquest, the church was converted into a mosque under a modified name, Kariye Camii, derived from "Chora", and the mosaics and frescoes were covered in plaster. Between 1948 and 1958, a restoration project turned the structure into a museum (Kariye Müsezi) and revealed the amazing frescoes and mosaics. Chora Church is one of the gems of Istanbul that should not be missed. It is located some distance from the city centre, so a taxi is necessary, but the visit can be combined with some of the other interesting sites in the same neighbourhood.
Note: If you visit this church near lunchtime, you should try the superb restaurant next door, Asitane.
The Church of St. Savior in Chora was built in the 11th century, during the Byzantine era. The original church dated back to the 4th century. After the Ottoman conquest, the Turks converted it into a mosque, and plastered over the Byzantine frescoes.
However, in 1947 this mosque was converted into a museum, and its frescoes were uncovered. The plaster had preserved them, so they are still magnificent to see. This is one of the world's finest collections of medieval Byzantine frescoes.
Cerca de Edirnekapi, en la puerta de Acrópolis, se encuentra la iglesia de San Salvador de Chora, la iglesia bizantina de la "santa sabiduría". Fue construída en el año 413 por orden de Justiniano y renovada a finales del siglo XI.
La iglesia fue transformada en Mezquita tras la conquista de Constantinopla por los turcos y se le dió el nombre de Kariye. Hoy en día se ha convertido en un auténtico museo que muestra su excepcional patrimonio, que representa el renacimiento bizantino en todo su esplendor.
Dentro de la iglesia de Chora pueden contemplarse imagenes de Jesucristo, de la Virgen María y de todos los antecesores de Jesús, así como los primeros años de la vida de Cristo y los milagros del Mesías, todos ellos representados en los impresionantes mosaicos y frescos que embellecen el museo.
El paraclesio alberga las tumbas de los fundadores de la iglesia y de sus familiares.
IMAGE 1 - The Dormition - The death of Mary is a frequent image in Byzantine sacred art, here notable for the bright coloration and intense facial expressions. Sitting over Mary is Jesus holding a baby meant to symbolize the baby-pure soul of the Virgin ( although purists would point out that Jesus received Mary's soul in heaven and did not carry it with him ). And above Jesus flies the Angel of Death. To either side, Peter and Paul. NB -- This mosaic is within the nave -- to see it, after entering turn around and look above the entrance door.
IMAGE 2 - The Nativity - from the ceiling of the inner narthex, one of the many mosaics covering the life and miracles of Jesus. This image places the scene in an outdoor setting.
IMAGE 3 - Christ as Pantocrator with Miracles - the rigid codes of Byzantine sacred art required that an image of Christ as Ruler of the World be placed above the main entrance door to the sanctuary. Here, the upper part of the image with the piercing gaze for which this image is most famous. No space is wasted in the narthex and two miracles appear above the central mosaic. To the right of Jesus, the miracle at Cana and to the left the miracle of multiplicatin of the loaves and fishes. This is among the most famous sites in the Kariye Museum.
IMAGE 4 - The Anastasis - The art work of the burial chamber is comprised of frescoes and leaves behind bibliographic art of the nave and narthex areas. These works emphasize salvation for the faithful and worthy. The room is totally dominated by the brightly colored and beatiful Anastasis at the far end of the room, derived from the Gospel of Nicodemus. Here Jesus, enclosed in the Mandorla, an ancient symbol of the coming together of heaven and earth in the shape of an almond, rescues Adam and Eve from their tombs in Hell. His feet are widespread as he has just kicked down the gates of Hell and at the bottom Satan can be seen bound and gagged lying amidst chunks of marble. His bright white gown and the light surrounding him overwhelm the darkness of Hell. To the left of Jesus, John the Baptist with Kings David and Solomon and other righteous kings. On His right, a multitude of saints led by St. Stephen, the first martyr. The Anastasis is indeed a dominating work of art.
IMAGE 5 - Last Judgement - after entering the Parecclesion, one must turn around and look above the entrance doorway for this striking fresco. Above Jesus, the scroll of infinity and to his sides angels bearing the documents from which the final decision will be made - immortality in Heaven or permanent damnation to the fires of Hell. Beyond the raised right hand of Jesus, the saved in heaven. And beyond the downturned left hand, the damned in Hell's Lake of Fire. At the bottom, the sinners shackled as they turn toward their unfortunate fate.
Please visit the travelogue below for more stunning art from the Kariye Museum.
For those with an interest in sacred art, the Kariye Museum is about as close to "heaven on earth" as you are likely to get. The frescoes and mosaics covering the walls, ceilings, and domes of the church illustrate the first changes induced by the western European Renaissance and are considered the masterpieces of the Byzantine Renaissance. They demonstrate improvements in representing volume and perspective as well as offering a more realistic portray of faces and body position and habitus. Unlike in most churches, the depictions are in a predominantly chronologic order depicting the like of Mary extending from before birth to death and the life and miracles of Jesus. Many other religious images are interposed with pictures of important political and religious figures of the time. Issues relating to death dominate the burial chamber ( parecclesion ). Most of the images in the nave have been lost to time, but the 2 outer long entrance halls (narthex) and the burial chamber are more intact. Mosaics predominate at all areas except the burial hall where frescoes are the major modality.
IMAGE 1 - depicts one of the few remaining mosaics in the nave, a lovely Madonna with Child, but also shows the remarkably vivid marble walls now visible throughout the main sanctuary.
IMAGE 2 - there are six domes at St. Savior, each with a medallion at the top depicting Mary, Jesus, or both surrounded by a saints, apostles, and important religious figures. Here, Mary wih Child surrounded by assorted bishops with golden pillars and a bright red background.
IMAGES 3,4 - the parallel entrance halls ( exonarthex and endonarthex ) walls, columns, and ceilings are completely covered with mosaics of intricate detail, with scenes from the lives and miracles of Jesus and Mary ( the latter including material not in the Bible and derived from the Apocrypha) as well as other images of other leading religious and secular figures. Of note -
1 - unlike western sacred art, written descriptions are often included within the pictures.
2 - particularly striking in the inner narthex are the bright golden backgrounds against which the depictions are placed.
IMAGE 5 - St Peter against a golden background.
The Kariye Museum occupies an 11th Century church built under the auspices of Maria Dukaina, the mother in law of Emperor Alexius I Comnenus whose appeals to the west for aid against the Selcuk Turks began the Crusades. A monastery occupied this site as early as the 3rd C, with a with an early 5th C church built outside the city walls created by Constantine, hence the name St. Savior in Chora with chora meaning 'outside the walls". Never mind that after the 414 expansion of the walls by Theodosius the church was inside - the old name persisted. From the Latin, chora means womb and the name may also reflect the dedication of the church to Mary with an eternal womb for the Son of God larger than earth and sky, outside the boundaries created by man, an alternative explanation of the name.
The church interior was sacked by the 4th Crusade. It fell to Theodore Metochites to endow the creation of the beautiful mosaics and frescoes we see today, created by an unknown team of artists between 1315-21. This statesman and scholar is buried in the church and is depicted in one mosaic presenting a model of the church to Jesus.
58 years after the fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the church was converted to a mosque ( Kariye Mosque - the name now used for the museum ) by the eunuch Grand Vizier Ali Pasha. A minaret was added and the artwork was covered with plaster as images of living creatures including humans are forbidden in mosques. Protected from damage, the mosaics and frescoes survived in good condition. Initally discovered and again recovered in the late 19th C, the final restoration over 11 years began in 1948 under the auspices of the Byzantine Institute in the United States. The mosque was opened as a museum in the 1950's.
The museum structure is basically unchanged from the 11th C plan with the addition of a burial chamber along one side in the 14th C and the addition of the minaret 100 years later. The rear of the building lies in a little park with a small kiosk for snacks and serviceable if not pristine free toilets. These are located just beyond the ticket gate.
The Kariye Museum is located in the western Edimekapi district far removed from most tourist attractions and most but not all tour bus visits - it is just too far out of the way, parking is limited, etc. The best way to get here is a taxi. Public bus service is available, but the stop is several blocks away without obvious directions or signage.
In the last few years, it appears that the neighborhood has gentrified as the fame of the museum has spread. We saw a few souvenir stores, a boutique style hotel, and a few small restaurants in the area and one, the Asitane, is apparently quite famous.