The Kariye Museum or Chora Church has been standing for approximately 15 centuries. From the outside it has a relatively modest appearance, and, for this reason, without going inside it is impossible to understand its excellence, but each mosaic tells a different story. This historic building, surrounded by greenery, peacefully awaits its visitors and will especially impress you with its decorative arts. Here you can almost breathe in its mystical atmosphere. As with other similar museums in Turkey, the Kariye bears the distinction of having been both a church and a museum, and for this reason, it is a valuable place combining different religious beliefs and cultures. The museum was used as a church from the 6th century and in the year 1511 it was turned into a mosque by the Queen’s Eunuch, Ali Pasha. Since 1945 it has been open to visitors as a museum. The museum is called ‘Kariye’, and is also known today as ‘Chora’, which had the meaning of ‘countryside’ or ‘rural area’ as, when it was first established, the site was outside the city walls.
The museum’s sixteen windows allow you to make the most of the daylight and enable you to see the detail of the pictures on the walls. The museum, constructed in the form of a Greek cross, is comprised of the Parecclesion, Outer Narthex, Inner Narthex, and Naos sections. The Naos is covered with a dome and was the central area where worship took place. It dominates the structure, as it is situated right at its centre. The Parecclesion, which is also covered with a dome, has a burial chapel and is built on a basement with just one apse. You will notice that most of the ornate decorations and reliefs are situated in the narthexes.
The Kariye Museum continues to enchant thousands of visitors each year with its architecture dating from the Eastern Roman Empire and the dazzling “resurrection” (Anastasis) scene, which is found in the apse. You can also observe the effect of the Renaissance, as the mosaics, which are set in one part of the museum’s walls give a three-dimensional effect, and have a crucial place in the history of art, which exceeds their historical value.
Amongst the most famous of its mosaics is the Mosaic of Jesus, the ‘Hodegetria’ Virgin Mary Mosaic, the Mosaic of the Death of the Virgin Mary, the Mosaic of the Apostle Saint Peter and the Mosaic dedicated to the Founder. In the Ottoman period when the Chora Church was turned into a mosque, the mosaics and frescoes telling Christian stories were covered with whitewash, and this is how they were able to survive without being damaged. After it was turned into a museum, the whitewash was cleaned off, and the building was able to show its artistic worth to its visitors.
The Kariye Museum is in the Edirnekapı area of Istanbul’s Fatih district. You can reach Edirnekapı by Metrobus or tram. After you get off the bus or tram, a short and pleasant walk will lead you to the museum. If you begin your visit to the museum first thing in the morning, we recommend that you stop for a lovely breakfast at one of the establishments directly opposite the museum. If you want to continue your historical journey to the museum, either beforehand or afterwards, with a historic culinary journey, it would be an ideal opportunity to try some Ottoman cuisine. We could say that the Asitane Restaurant, which is very close to the museum, would be the perfect place to fit this mood. You should taste the Ottoman food, appetisers and desserts dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. You can visit this museum in summer every day from 09.00 – 19.00 and in winter from 09.00 – 16.30.