Chora of Istanbul: A Magnificent Attraction

Kariye Museum is another museum opened to Muslims as a mosque after Hagia Sophia. Perhaps the last time to see the mosaics and frescoes on the walls of the museum. Because it can be completely closed in the future, just like the mosaics in Hagia Sophia. The museum, located in the Edirnekapı district in Istanbul, is about 100 meters from the Theodosius (now known as Istanbul) Walls, which have survived until today. The building is located at the northwest end of the historical peninsula, on the slopes facing the Golden Horn.

1. History

Chora was the center of the Chora Monastery, which was built as a large complex during the Eastern Roman Empire. This building was dedicated to Jesus like every other building built at that time. This area, located outside the walls of Constantine, was named as “Khora”, which means “rural area” or “outside the city” in Greek. Today, only this church remains from this large complex structure. Its establishment coincides with the period of Iustinianus. According to historical documents, Theodora played an important role in the construction of the monastery. The date of construction of the monastery, built by Theodoros, is written as 536 in historical documents. Theodoros was the uncle of Empress Theodora and Theodora was the wife of Iustinianus I. The monastery, whose construction began in the 6th century, was destroyed by the earthquake on October 6, 557, before it was completely built. The emperor built a larger monastery on this incident. The inclusion of the monastery in written sources begins with the burial of Patriarch Germanos I in the monastery cemetery in the 8th century.

The period of 726 – 842 of the Roman Empire is known as the “Iconoclasma” period. Iconoclasm means icon-breaking. During this period, all religious icons were destroyed because they were associated with paganism. Unfortunately, the Chora Monastery was also heavily damaged in this hysteria of cultural destruction. A council convened in 843, confirming the decisions of the Second Iznik Council, and the icon culture was once again released. During this period, Mikhael Synkellos, who came from the Syrian-Palestinian region, was appointed as the high priest to the monastery and a large aid campaign was organized under the leadership of the priest. The church was enlarged and three more chapels were added.

The Komnenos / Komninos Dynasty, who served as the Byzantine Emperors and later as the emperors of the Trabzon Empire, lived in the “Great Palace (or Holy Palace)” located at the southern end of the Fatih peninsula. The Grand Palace was used as the residence of the Byzantine emperors for more than 800 years. In the 11th century, the Komninos Dynasty preferred to use the Blakernai Palace / Palace of the Porphyrogenitus (now Tekfur Palace) in Edirnekapı. Thus, the importance of the Chora monastery and church increased. Additional structures were built in the monastery and dedicated to “Christ the Redeemer”. Another major restoration was carried out in 1120. In this restoration, the building was transformed from the “Closed Greek Cross Plan” into a kiborion structure known as the dome system carried by the piers. The monastery was destroyed during the Latin invasion of 1204 – 1261 and was repaired over time. Especially between 1282 and 1328, Teodor Metokhites (who was the chief treasurer of the emperor Andronikos II) spent all of his wealth on the monastery. In addition to the construction of the entrance and side chapels, the most beautiful frescoes and mosaics for the monastery were decorated. After this extensive restoration, there was no work in the monastery until the Ottoman Empire conquered Istanbul.



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2. What Has Changed in the Conquest of Istanbul?

When Fatih Sultan Mehmet conquered Istanbul, he did not allow any changes in the monastery. This building continued to be used as a church for 58 years after the conquest. The church was converted into a mosque in 1511 by the grand vizier Atik Ali Pasha. During this transformation, the frescoes and mosaics inside the building were covered with plaster. A minaret was built instead of the bell tower in the southwest corner. A marble altar was added to the southeast corner. Its name was changed to “Kariye”. The mosaics in the building were repaired by the Greek architect Peloppida Kouppas in 1860, but were covered again with wooden covers and curtains. After the earthquake in 1894, Abdulhamid II had the Chora Museum restored again.

3. Chora in the Republic Period

According to the decision taken by the Council of Ministers on 29 August 1945, the building was converted into a museum. The restoration of the frescoes and mosaics under plaster and the entire building has begun. All the mosaics and frescoes were unearthed within 10 years. The museum was opened to visitors. It has become one of the most visited museums in Istanbul. After the museum decision was canceled in 2019, it was decided to open the building as a mosque on 1 August 2020. The building was opened to Muslim worship as of August.

4. Mosaics in Chora

The Kariye Church, which is a typical Byzantine structure, is seen as a simple structure where only bricks are built from the outside. However, it is one of the most decorated churches. Mosaics are the most beautiful examples of the last period of Byzantine painting. The idea of ​​depth in the mosaics, the movement, and elongation of the figures are the elements that show the parallel development of Byzantine art to Italian Renaissance art. It is possible to see mosaics depicting the life of Jesus on the outer part and the life of Mary on the inner part of the entrances, which are called Narthex and are an architectural structure belonging to churches. The descriptions contain a chronological order. Between the outer narthex and the inner narthex is one of the mold poses used in many Orthodox churches to express the glory of Christ. In this pose, while Jesus is making a sign of consecration with his right hand, he is holding the New Testament in his left hand. On the left, a process from the birth of Jesus to his miracles is processed. Inside, there are sections from the life of the “Virgin Mary” and the miracles of Jesus.

The most beautiful mosaic in the inner narthex is “deisis”. In this mosaic, a reverse perspective is used. The composition does not allow the visitor to view the mosaic in full view. Since it is a large work, it will be difficult to understand when viewed directly. You can only understand the composition when you look through the door. In the work on the right at the entrance of the door, the viewer can perceive Mary first. However, Mary points to Jesus with her open hands. In addition to mosaics and frescoes, there are also colorful and marble-patterned columns inside the building.



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5. Kariye’s Frescoes

Frescoes were made with a technique used only in Kariye. The frescoes in the chapels (paracclesion) adjacent to the church contain frescoes such as “Resurrection”, the miracles of Christ, burial niches, and the stories of Jacob. In the middle of the Paracclesion dome is the Virgin Mary and Child Jesus. There are 12 angel depictions on its slices. Fresco art was also used in the tomb niches in the outer narthex sections. The anastasis scene of Jesus, which is frequently used in Orthodox iconography, has survived until today with little damage. The Anastasis fresco depicts Christ’s descent into Hell. The depiction of Jesus reviving Adam and Eve from their graves is one of the most important frescoes. Fresco art was used in almost all chapels. Not only Jesus and Mary, but also depictions of saints such as Saint John Dameskenos, Saint Kosmas, Saint Joseph, and Saint Theophanes are featured in the frescoes. The frescoes with the miracles of Jacob and Moses are also here.

6. How to Get to Kariye Mosque?

Going to the

Kariye Mosque and Museum, from three different regions:

From Taksim

You can walk from Taksim to Tunel and take the IETT bus number 87 from here. You can get off in Edirnekapi and walk to the museum.
In Taksim Metro, you can take the M2, Yenikapı line, get off at the Halic stop, exit the Haliç metro and take one of the buses number 28, 31E, 32, 336E, 37E, 38E and get off at Edirnekapı.
From Taksim Metro, you can take the M2 Yenikapi line and get off at Yenikapi. From here, you can take the M1B or M1A metro line and get off at Topkapı – Ulubatlı and reach Kariye Museum on foot. This walk takes 17 minutes.

From Kadikoy

You can take the Beşiktaş City Lines ferry in Kadıköy. You can get off the ferry at Beşiktaş pier and walk to Akaretler. Here you have to go to the stop where the IETT bus number 28 is located. After you get off at Edirnekapı, you can walk to the museum.

From Sultanahmet

You can use the T1 tram line to go to Laleli – University station, after getting off here, you can walk to Vezneciler. You can take the 86V IETT bus and get off at Edirnekapı stop. From here you can walk to the museum.



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