Chora Church

But the most characteristic part of Chora is the breathtaking frescoes and mosaics, an extraordinary example of Christian Orthodox simbology and pioneer of a new movement in the Late Byzantine Empire, which was parallel to the Renaissance movement of Giotto in Italy. Mosaic of the Virgin and ChristThe mosaics describe the lives of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, using background elements and architectural motifs to give depth, culminated with stunning teselae[5]. The scenes are realistic with figures correctly proportioned, and Jesus has a quite humanitarian look upon his face. Among the represented scenes different biblical passages are displayed: infancy of Jesus, miracles, portraits of saints, angels and the Devil, among others. According to Professor Rossitza Schroeder, the mosaics in the south bay of the outer narthex were not only conceived for commemorations, as has been previously argued, but also for confessions and penance[6].

After the conquest by the Turks it suffered no damaged and served as a church for some years. When it was finally converted into a mosque in 1511, the Ottomans made some reparations, added a madrassah and a mihrab and removed the sarcophagi.

In the 20th century the mosque was converted into a museum upon the decision of the Council of Ministers in 1945 and every Islamic element removed except the 19th century outside minaret. The mosaics and frescoes, apparently covered with removable wooden shutters during the Ottoman period, were recently uncovered and restored by the American Byzantine Society.

At the moment the church can be visited until 17pm (summer time) for 15TL or free with Müzekart – only the narthexes and the paracclesion are opened to visitors because the nave is closed and will be under restoration until 2017 – and its location at Edirnekapı neighborhood can be reached from Taksim with bus 87 and from Eminönü with buses 336E or 32.

This approach cannot be brought into an end without mentioning the further meaning of Chora Church. On the one hand the restoration of Metochites used and mixed the existing architectural and artistic elements, an eclecticism which combined with the funerary use of the church could point at some decadent tendencies, but on the other hand the architectural plan and manuscripts that were held in the still show its glory[7]. Therefore Chora Church could symbolize the swansong of a declining empire, or not, but it’s sure that it played a major role in its time as one of the most important Late Byzantine religious and artistic centers, luckily preserved for our delight.


[5] Each one of the pieces that form a mosaic.
[6] SCHROEDER, B. Rossitza, “Prayer and penance in the South Bay of the Chora Esonarthex”, in Gesta, Vol. 48, Nº1, 2009.
[7] FAILLER, Albert, about OUSTERHOUT, G. Robert, The Architecture of the Kariye Camii in , Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington D.C., 1987.

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