Chora Church is one of the most important Byzantine structures in Istanbul. It even overshadows Hagia Sophia when it comes to Byzantine mosaics adorning its walls.
Chora Church is one of the oldest buildings in the city. The church, which was used as a mosque in the Ottoman period, became a museum in the Republic period. With a decision taken in 2020, it was converted into a mosque again.
Chora Church characterizes the golden years of late Byzantine art in a splendid way and the colors of gold, khaki, purple, lilac and saxe gleam like sunset lights. This secret gem of Istanbul has the most impeccable iconographic depictions inherited from the Byzantium.
In this article, you can find information about the history of the Chora Church, known as the “Kariye Camii” in the local language. In addition, Kariye Mosque entrance fee and opening hours are also noted.
Table of Contents
The History of Chora Church
The history of the Chora Church goes back to the foundation of Constantinople, in the 4th century. Outside the city walls of Emperor Constantine, the complex was known as Chora Monastery, meaning the rural monastery.
During the reign of Emperor Theodosius II, the city walls were enlarged and the monastery remained within the new walls.
In the early period of the Byzantine Empire, the city center was where buildings such as the Great Palace, Hippodrome and Hagia Sophia were located. This area, which is the eastern side of the Historic Peninsula, is known today as Sultanahmet.
However, after the 11th century, the emperors began to pay more attention to the shores of the Golden Horn and built a magnificent palace called the Palace of Blachernae.
With the rise of the Palace of Blachernae, Chora Church also gained importance. Chora Church was located right next to the famous Theodosian Walls that guarded Constantinople. For this reason, the famous Hodegetria (Icon of Mary), believed to protect the city, was kept here.
The Chora Church, which formed the core of the Chora Monastery, was rebuilt during the reign of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos. However, the main person who gave the church its present identity was a Byzantine bureaucrat named Theodore Metochites.
Theodore Metochites had the title of “Grand Logothete”, one of the highest ranks in the empire, in the 14th century. Later in his career, he spent his fortune on the decoration of the Chora Church.
The artists commissioned by Theodore Metochites filled the walls and ceiling of the Chora Church with mosaics depicting the life of Mary and Jesus. These mosaics are still visible.
Things to See in Chora Church
Things to See in Chora Church is spread over four separate sections. The first of these is the outer corridor covered with mosaics depicting the life of Jesus. The second is the interior corridor decorated with mosaics telling about the life of Mary.
The third section, the main space, draws attention with its simplicity. The fourth part is the burial chapel, also known as Parecclesion, decorated with magnificent frescoes.
1. Outer Narthex
Outer Narthex has wonderful mosaics depicting the life of Jesus. Especially the Christ Pantocrator mosaic on the door to Inner Narthex is interesting. Although some of the mosaics in this part of the church were damaged by earthquakes, they are generally in very good condition.
In fact, these mosaics were covered with plaster when the building was converted into a mosque in the Ottoman period. However, the mosaics were not damaged.
In this way, the mosaics were completely opened with a work led by the Byzantine Institute of America during the Republican era. Thus, the building was turned into a museum.
2. Inner Narthex
Inner Narthex has mosaics telling the story of Virgin Mary. Some of the mosaics in this section are taken from the apocryphal bible and contain scenes not seen in other churches.
There is also a mosaic series showing the miracles of Jesus on the south side of Inner Narthex. From the south of Inner Narthex there is a door leading to Parecclesion, the burial chapel.
3. The Nave
The Nave can be reached through the inner narthex. The main section is surprisingly simple. The final scene of breathtaking Byzantine mosaics in the interior and exterior corridors is located here.
There is a mosaic depicting each Jesus and Mary on both sides of the altar. The main part offers silence and peace, as if proving that the structure was essentially a monastery.
Parecclesion is the most distinctive part of Chora Church. Theodore Metochites, the patron of the church, added this part to the church later and was buried here when he died.
The frescoes on the walls and ceiling of the Parecclesion are magnificent. There are pictures of Christian martyrs and famous patriarchs of the past on the walls. On the ceiling are scenes of resurrection and last judgment.
Chora Church Entrance Fee 2024
Chora Church entrance fee was 65 Turkish Liras before it was converted into a mosque. The name of the building has changed from the Kariye Museum to the Kariye Mosque since 2020 and, like all mosques in Istanbul, the entrance is free.
In 2020, Hagia Sophia and Chora were converted back into mosques in the same period. For the following three years, the mosaics on the upper floor of Hagia Sophia, like Chora, were closed to visitors.
In 2024, the Byzantine mosaics in the upper floor galleries of Hagia Sophia will be visible by purchasing a ticket. This new practice in Hagia Sophia can also be an example for the Chora Church.
Kariye Mosque Opening Hours 2024
Kariye Mosque opening hours are between 09:00 in the morning and 18:30 in the evening. The building, also known as the Kariye Museum or Chora Church, is now closed to visitors during prayer hours as it is a mosque.
Please note that the Chora Church has been closed to visitors since 2020 for restoration. At the end of the article, I added a section about the current status of the renovation process, which I update every few months.
How to Get to Kariye Mosque?
Kariye Mosque is located on the West side of the Historical Peninsula. The most practical way to go to Kariye Mosque (formerly Chora Church) is to take a taxi as there is no tram or metro stop nearby.
In order to go to Kariye Mosque from Taksim Square, you can take one of the buses to Edirnekapi. You can get off the bus at Edirnekapi Stop and walk to the Kariye Mosque (formerly Chora Church) in 5 minutes.
In order to go to the Kariye Mosque from Sultanahmet, you can take the trams in the direction of Kabatas and get off at the Eminonu stop. If you take the bus from Eminonu to Edirnekapi direction and get off at Edirnekapi Stop, you can walk to Kariye Mosque (formerly Chora Church) in 5 minutes.
Chora Church, which has the most beautiful Byzantine artworks in Istanbul, is now known as the Kariye Mosque. The building served as a museum for 90 years between 1930 and 2020.
If you want to see the most beautiful examples of medieval Christian art in the East, the Chora Church is a must-see. Because Byzantine mosaic series that have survived to the present day by preserving their integrity are rare in the world.
Restoration Status of Chora Church 2024
Kariye Mosque (aka Chora Church) has been closed to visitors since July 2020 for restoration. As of November 21, 2023, when I updated this article, Kariye Mosque was still not opened. Unfortunately, there is no official statement yet about when it will open.
However, with the official statement made in October 2023, the mosaics in the upper floor galleries of Hagia Sophia, which has been closed for 3 years, will be seen by purchasing a ticket starting from January 2024.
This practice may also be an example for the Kariye Mosque. Although there is no definitive information at the moment, ticketing for foreign tourists may come to Chora Church in 2024. Thus, Byzantine mosaics would be seen.
Written by Serhat Engul