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St Savior in Chora (Kariye Camii) is an eleventh century church turned mosque and, more recently, a museum known as Kariye Muzesi (Chora Museum).
Originally built within a Christian complex outside the boundary of Constantinople’s walls, St Savior in Chora derived its name from its countryside setting, "in chora" meaning "rural". However, the building of St Savior in Chora we see today is a newer incarnation, having been built in the eleventh century and turned into a mosque in the sixteenth century.
Today, a highlight of visiting St Savior in Chora is its incredible set of Byzantine mosaics dating to the fourteenth century, when the church underwent redecoration. Hidden by plaster during its time as a mosque, these works now remain beautifully preserved.
The Chora Church, known as Kariye in Turkish, has one of the best examples of Byzantine mosaic art. The building today is located at Kariye neighborhood near Edirnekapi city walls over the Golden Horn. Originally a Christian church, it was converted into a mosque after the Conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans. After the Republic it was used as a museum of Byzantine mosaics and frescoes until end of October 2020, when it's re-converted to mosque.
The church was originally built in the early 5th century outside the first wall of Constantinople, as the name Chora means "countryside" in Greek. It's original name was St. Saviour in Chora and it was a small monastery just outside of the city. Later on, it was destroyed by earthquakes and abandoned for many centuries until the area was inhabited after the city walls were enlarged thus the neighborhood remained within Constantinople.
Chora church was rebuilt in the 11th century by Maria Ducaena, the mother-in-law of Alexius I Comnenus. It was restored in the 12th century by Isaac Comnenus after some earthquakes and finally rebuilt again by Theodore Metochites, responsible of the Byzantine treasury and the art at that time, in the 14th century. Most of the mosaics and frescos we can admire today are from this last restoration.
After the Conquest of Constantinople, the Ottomans converted the church to a mosque and named as Kariye Camii (Kariye Mosque). The mosaics and frescoes were covered with a plaster because of the prohibition of images in Islam, a Mihrab was added, and a minaret was built outside. In the beginning of the 20th century the minaret collapsed on the dome because of an earthquake, thus the dome was rebuilt but mosaics were lost.
After the Republic, experts on the Byzantine art came to Istanbul to work on the restorations of the Chora in order to uncover fantastic mosaics and frescoes. It was opened to the public as a museum in 1958. In September 2020 it's re-converted to mosque.
The Kariye has the best Byzantine mosaics in Istanbul, similar to the ones in Ravenna - Italy. Many mosaics in the narthex and inner narthex describe the life of Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary, with citations from the Old and New Testaments. In the Paraclesion, which is the side corridor, you can view great frescoes such as the Resurrection (Anastasis) or the last judgment (Deesis). In the nave, the Dormition of the Virgin (Koimesis) mosaic is impressive. During the visit you're not allowed to use flash while taking photographs indoors.
The typical Ottoman neighborhood with wooden and colorful houses outside the building is also very interesting to stroll around. Just a few minutes on foot from the mosque, you can also see the city wall and the Tekfur Palace, or visit Mihrimah Sultan mosque.
Phone: +90 212 6319241
Important note: Some sections of Kariye are closed for restorations.
Former Byzantine Church St Saviour in Chora or Kariye Museum, Istanbul
Just inside the Theodosian walls of Istanbul, between the districts of Fatih and Balat is the area known as Kariye, with its tiny houses painted green, blue and pink nestling around Kariye Museum, the former Byzantine church of St Saviour in Chora. The church stands on the site of an earlier church, about which nothing is known with certainty. The name Chora means ‘countryside’, indicating that the origin
al church was situated outside the city walls of the time. It must therefore have predated the 8th century Theodosian walls, and may have been built by Justinian (527-565). The tomb of a 7th century Islamic saint near the church means that the area has mystical associations for Christians and Muslims alike.
Construction of the present building was begun in the 11th century by Maria Doukaina, mother-in-law of the Emperor Alexius I (1081-1118). Originally it consisted of
a dome supported by four columns, but underwent considerable alterations in the course of repairs over the centuries, and was enlarged by additions, such as the parecclesion or narrow side chapel. But the celebrity of Kariye lies not so much in its architecture as its outstanding mosaics and frescos, whose animation and realism contrast with the formal and stylised painting of the earlier Byzantine period. The church was despoiled during the Latin occupation of 1204-1261, and Emperor Andronicus II (1282-1328) charged his treasurer, the poet Logethete Theodore Metochites with the task of restoring the building. In the course of this work Metochites also enlarged the church, adding a section to the north, an outer narthex to the west, and the parecclesion to the south. The entrance is in the wall of the outer narthex.
The round arches, semi-piers, niches, and stone and brick work of the façades all serve to lighten the massive effect of this large building. The nave with its high dome was repaired after the Turkish conquest of 1453. The building continued to be used as a church until 1511, when Vezir Hadım Ali Paşa converted it into a mosque, and the mosaics and frescos were covered by a thin layer of plaster. In 1945, when the building became a museum, this coating of plaster was removed during restoration work by the American Institute of Byzantine Studies. These remarkable mosaics and frescos rank among the foremost works of
Byzantine art in the world, and visits by such world famous figures as Queen Elizabeth of Britain and former American president Bill Clinton’s wife Hillary Clinton and their daughter Chelsea, add colour and excitement to life in the neighbourhood.
The inhabitants of the little houses, some as much as 250 years old, and others new reconstructions of old houses, have become accustomed to the changes in their neighbourhood since Çelik Gülersoy, president of the Touring Association, launched his conservation project in the 1970s. They are now old hands at posing for photographs taken by visitors from all over the world. Close relations between the museum and the local people are due in large part to the museusno curator Müjgan Harmankaya and the Kariye muhtar or neighbourhood representative, Ömer Koç.
The mosaics depict the Nativity, the return of the Virgin Mary from Egypt to Nazareth, Mary at prayer with angels, the Miracles at Cana, Mary travelling to Bethlehem and Joseph’s dream, Christ taken to Jerusalem for the Passover by Mary and John, various saints, Christ healing the paralysed man,
Christ meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, the Virgin Mary, the Infant Christ with David and the twelve kings, the angel appearing to Mary, Theodoros Metokhites presenting a model of his church to Christ, the Virgin and Child reading the scriptures, the death of the Virgin, the resurrection of Christ, and other biblical scenes.The tomb in the grounds of the church belongs to Ebusaid Elhudri, the son of Elhudri of Medina who fell in the Battle of Uhud. Ebusaid, said to have been a philanthropist who aided the poor, was killed on this spot during the Arab siege of Istanbul in the 7th century. His tomb is a revered shrine, and according to local people prayers addressed here are always fulfilled. As part of the conservation project carried out at Kariye by Çelik Gülersoy, an elegant old house next to the church was converted into a hotel whose Asitane Restaurant has won an impressive reputation for its Ottoman Turkish cuisine.
Cafés, cake shops and souvenirs shops have also opened here with Gülersoy’s encouragement. With its unequalled mystic atmosphere and authentic historic texture, Kariye is one of the places no visitor to Istanbul should miss.
Saint Saviour in Chora
The Church of St. Saviour in Chora is considered as one of the most beautiful examples of Byzantine art today in the world. It was built in the Edirnekapi, on the outskirts of the city wall of Constantine (later inside the walls, with the new bigger wall of Theodosius) and close to one of its doors, to which it owes its name Chora.
This Byzantine church is particularly noted for its frescoes and mosaics, the worldwide best preserved from that period.
The Chora Church was originally built as part of a monastery complex, south of the Golden Horn, in the early fifth century, outside the city walls, but later included in the new walls of the Emperor Theodosius.
Most of the current building structure dates from between 1077 and 1081, rebuilt by the mother of Alexius I Commenus, quincunx shaped, but in the twelfth century it suffered a partial collapse, seems that because of an earthquake, so it was restored and two centuries later took its present form.
The powerful Byzantine statesman Theodore Metochites provided the church with most of its fine mosaics and frescoes. Stunning interior decorations took place between 1315 and 1321, as the best example of the so-called Paleologist Renaissance, although the artists remain anonymous. Soon after, Theodore was expelled from the city by an usurper and was allowed to return two years later, so he spent the last days of his life living in the Church of Chora, as a monk.
The church became a mosque fifty years after the Ottoman conquest. During this period, images and frescoes were covered with layers of plaster, which somehow helped its preservation. Since its restoration in 1948, it became a museum that opened its doors to the public 10 years later, in 1958.
This is a lovely place and if you are fond of Byzantine art it can be an ideal one. Its frescoes and mosaics are unique and impressive. But this place is really far and there is also the high cost of the visit, that is why we have not included it in our recommended places of Istanbul.
Thursdays to Tuesdays, from 9:30 to 16:30.
Closes on Wednesdays.
By Bus or Taxi
Galata Tower (3 km)
Bosphorus Cruise (3 km)
Galata Bridge (3.1 km)
Spices Bazaar (3.1 km)
St Savior in Chora - History
There are numerous historical churches and cultural monuments throughout Istanbul, which were formerly houses of Christian worship but are now state museums and mosques. Visitors to Istanbul will gain a broader appreciation of Byzantine architecture and Orthodox spirituality by becoming familiar with some of these sites.
Dedicated to the “wisdom” (sophia) of God in the mid-fourth century, it served as an Orthodox church until 1453 and a patriarchal cathedral from 1204-61. For one thousand years, it was the focal point for Orthodox Christians and the world’s largest cathedral, until the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Perhaps the greatest surviving example of Byzantine architecture, the current structure was erected by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century. It was converted into a mosque in 1453, and opened as a museum in 1935.
St. Savior in Chora
The eleventh-century church of the Holy Savior in Chora contains some of the most exquisite Byzantine art in the world. The mosaics and frescoes of this monastic building, which was originally constructed outside of the main walls of the city (hence its name chora, a Greek word implying “the countryside”), are the finest examples of the fourteenth-century Palaeologan Renaissance. It was converted into a mosque in the sixteenth century and became a museum in 1948.
Dedicated to the “peace” (irene) of God, this church—situated in the first courtyard of Topkapi Palace—is one of the first commissioned in Constantinople and served as the patriarchal cathedral before Haghia Sophia was constructed. It was the site of the Second Ecumenical Council in 381. The original structure was destroyed by fire in 532, and the second one by an earthquake in the eighth century. The current edifice dates from the eighth-century restoration. In 1453, the church was converted into an armory, and in 1908 it became a military museum from 1908. The Turkish ministry of culture took charge of the site in 1978, and it now primarily serves as a concert hall for musical performances.
Little Haghia Sophia
Little Haghia Sophia was said to have rivaled the beauty of Haghia Sophia. The church was constructed in the sixth century by Emperor Justinian and dedicated to Saints Sergius and Bacchus, patron saints of the Roman military. In the early sixteenth century, it was converted to a mosque. The building suffered serious decay over the centuries After being repeatedly added to the watch list of UNESCO and the World Monuments Fund, the mosque was restored, and is once again open to the public for worship.
Church of the Monastery of Mary
Constructed (in the shape of a cross) during the sixth century and restored during the twelfth century, this church was dedicated to the Virgin Theotokos and constitutes a splendid example of Byzantine architecture during the twelfth-century Comnenian period. After 1453, the church was used by a dervish order and also served as a Muslim school. Damaged and abandoned over the years, the building was extensively restored and returned to its original state in the 1970s, when it reopened as a mosque.
Church of St. Theodore
Probably dedicated to St. Theodore of Tyre, this church was also constructed during the Comnenian period. Two underground cisterns allude to the existence of a Byzantine monastery. After the Fourth Crusade, it briefly served as a Roman Catholic church. Since 1453, it has served as a mosque. Partially restored in 1937, some of its surviving Christian mosaics were uncovered.
Monastery of Mary Pammakaristos
The eleventh- to twelfth-century church of Panaghia Pammakaristos served as the patriarchal cathedral from 1456-1587, after which it was converted into a mosque and became known as Fethiye Camii, “the mosque of the conquest.” The edifice was restored to its original beauty in the mid-twentieth century, after which the main church served as a mosque, while the chapel opened as a museum.
Monastery of Pantokrator
The second largest surviving Byzantine structure in Istanbul after Haghia Sophia, this early twelfth-century church was part of a monastery complex built by the empress Irene Comnena and dedicated to Christ Pantokrator the monastery included two churches and a chapel, as well as a library and hospital. After the Fourth Crusade, it briefly served as a Roman Catholic church. After 1453, it was converted into a mosque.
TURKEY OCCUPIES CHURCH OF THE HOLY SAVIOR IN CHORA
Once again, our Holy Orthodox Church suffers persecution and injustice. The government of Turkey has taken over the hisstoric and sacred temple of the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora as a mosque. The Ottomans wrested the ancient temple from the Orthodox Christians in the 16th century. This is the final move in Turkey’s unjust acquisition of this consecratedHouse of the Lord.
Please find below an encyclical from His Eminence Metropolitan Evangelos regarding this Turkish offense against the Church and all Orthodox Christians in Turkey, and continue to pray and speak out that the Lord will protect His holy Church and her faithful believers.
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Turkey’s Erdogan orders historic church be turned into mosque for Muslim prayers
Tourists visit The Chora (Kariye) Church Museum, the 11th century church of St. Savior on August 21, 2020 in Istanbul, Turkey. The Chora Church Museum dates back to the Byzantine era when it was originally built as a monastery, during the Ottoman era it was converted into a mosque before being changed to a museum in 1948. The interior is decorated with some of the oldest surviving Byzantine mosaics and frescoes. | Getty Images/Burak Kara
About a month after converting Istanbul’s landmark Hagia Sophia into a Muslim house of prayer, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has now ordered another ancient Orthodox church to be turned into a mosque.
Erdogan, who is seeking to gain support among his conservative base amid economic and political uncertainty, has officially ordered that Istanbul’s medieval Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora — also known as the Kariye Museum — be handed over to Turkey’s religious authority for its conversion into a Muslim house of prayer, The Associated Press reported.
Originally built in the early 4th century by Constantine the Great, the Holy Saviour church was converted into the Kariye Mosque about 50 years after the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks. In 1945, the building was designated a museum by the Turkish government. The museum was opened for public display in 1958 after American art historians helped restore the original church's mosaics.
The foreign ministry of Greece, where millions of Orthodox Christians live, condemned Erdogan’s decision for “once again brutally insulting the character” of another U.N. world heritage site.
“This is a provocation against all believers,” the Greek ministry said in a statement. “We urge Turkey to return to the 21st century, and the mutual respect, dialogue and understanding between civilizations.”
Turkey’s Opposition HDP party lawmaker Garo Paylan called the move “a shame for our country.”
“One of the symbols of our country’s deep, multicultural identity and multi-religious history has been sacrificed,” he tweeted, according to France 24.
Before opening the structure for Muslim prayers, the church’s walls will be covered up or plastered over to hide the Christian art. And that would be “destruction,” Ottoman Empire historian Zeynep Turkyilmaz told the AFP. “It is impossible to hide the frescoes and mosaics because they decorate the entire building,” he said.
Last month, Erdogan declared the Hagia Sophia site a mosque open to Muslim worship. “Turkish people have no less right to Hagia Sophia than those who built it first 1,500 years ago,” Erdogan said in a televised speech at the time.
Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, built in A.D. 537 as a Greek Orthodox church, was the seat of Eastern Christianity for 900 years before the city was seized in the 15th century by Sultan Mehmed II, the Conqueror, who converted it into an Ottoman mosque. In 1934, modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, banned worship in Hagia Sophia and designated it as a museum.
“We are disappointed by the decision by the Government of Turkey to change the status of the Hagia Sophia,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement at the time, according to Reuters. “We understand the Turkish Government remains committed to maintaining access to the Hagia Sophia for all visitors, and look forward to hearing its plans for continued stewardship of the Hagia Sophia to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all.”
U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman James Risch, R-Idaho, and ranking member Bob Menendez, D-N.J., called the move a “deep affront to Christians around the world who look to Hagia Sophia as a shining light and deeply revered holy site.”
“We strongly denounce President Erdogan’s decision to convert Hagia Sophia from a museum into a mosque,” they said in a joint statement at the time. “At points in its history, Hagia Sophia served as a place of worship for Muslims and Christians, and for decades has been an extraordinary and welcoming center to people of all faiths.”
The Anastasis of Chora Church
The Chora Church and monastery, first built in the early fourth century upon the burial site of holy Christian martyrs and boasting a history of over fifteen hundred years as a sacred space, was converted into a museum in 1948 and ceased to be a functioning mosque (1). The beautiful artwork commissioned by Metochites in the 14 th century was brought to light from behind the wooden shutters and has since been restored by a joint effort by the Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies and the Byzantine Institute of America (2). Today, the Chora Museum, the Kariye Müzesi, is a popular tourist attraction in Istanbul for its beautiful Eastern Roman architecture and its rich history. It is commonly referred to as the second most important Byzantine church after the Hagia Sophia (2).
To say that Chora Church is a lieu de mémoire is not particularly surprising. This church was built around the reign of Constantine the Great and in the many centuries since it has remained relevant. Despite several earthquakes and the Latin occupation severely damaging the church, Chora has managed to be rebuilt several times over for its importance to Istanbul&rsquos history. There seems to be something about this space which stops the process of forgetting and aids in the process of remembering, the essential role of a lieu de mémoire as proposed by Nora.
A fresco of the anastasis, or rebirth, of Christ. Like Jesus, Chora Church has gone through several rebirths in its history as a lieu de memoire.
Through history, the Chora Church transformed and metamorphosed into different functions by adapting to the political climate of Istanbul. This metamorphosis and rebirth of a holy space emphasizes a certain one of Metochites&rsquo frescos in the church. In this fresco, featured on this page, we see the rebirth, or anastasis, of Christ. Chora Church, the church in the fields, was dedicated to Jesus, and similar to its patron, the church died but managed to become reborn into a new life. Destruction of Byzantine culture by invaders, time, and natural disasters has made it so many artifacts from ancient Constantinople have been lost, but somehow Chora Church, this lieu de mémoire, has avoided death and managed to be reborn several times. The Kariye Müzesi has managed to &ldquoimmortalize death&rdquo (3), and stop time, capturing almost two millennia of history and memory in this sacred location.
Humanities 54: The Urban Imagination / Julie Buckler, Samuel Hazzard Cross Professor of Slavic and Comparative Literatures, Harvard University
St. Savior in Chora (Kariye Müzesi formerly the Kariye Camii)Our Rating Neighborhood Camii Sok., Kariye Meydani, Edirnekapi Hours Thurs-Tues 9:30am-6:30pm Transportation Thurs-Tues 9:30am-6:30pm (until 4:30pm in winter). Bus: 90B from Beyazit or 90 from Eminönü direct to the museum, or 91 from Eminönü to Edirnekapi Phone 0212/631-9241 Prices Admission 15TL Web site St. Savior in Chora
Much of what remained in the coffers of the Byzantine Empire was invested in the embellishment of this church, one of the finest preserved galleries of Byzantine mosaics as well as a detailed account of early Christian history. The original church was built in the 4th century A.D. as part of a monastery complex outside the city walls (chora zonton means "in the country" in Greek), but the present structure dates to the 11th century. The interior restoration and decoration were the result of the patronage of Theodore Metochites, Grand Logothete of the Treasury during the reign of Andronicus II Paleologos, and date to the first quarter of the 14th century. His benevolence is depicted in a dedicatory panel in the inner narthex over the door to the nave, which shows Metochites presenting the Chora to Jesus.
When the church was converted into a mosque in the 16th century, the mosaics were plastered over. A 19th-century architect uncovered the mosaics but was ordered by the government to re-cover those in the section of the prayer hall. American archaeologists Whittemore and Underwood finally uncovered these masterpieces during World War II, and although the Chora became a museum in 1947, it is still often referred to as the Kariye Camii.
In total there are about 50 mosaic panels, but because some of them are only partially discernible, there seems to be disagreement on the exact count. Beginning in the exonarthex, the subjects of the mosaic panels fall into one of four themes, presented more or less in chronological order after the New Testament. Broadly, the themes relate to the cycle of the life of Christ and his miracles, stories of the life of Mary, scenes from the infancy of Christ, and stories of Christ's ministry. The panels not included in these themes are the devotional panels in the exonarthex and the narthex, and the three panels in the nave: The Dormition of the Virgin, Christ, and the Virgin Hodegetria.
The Paracclesion (burial section) is decorated with a series of masterful frescoes completed sometime after the completion of the mosaics and presumably executed by the same artist. The frescoes reflect the purpose of the burial chamber with scenes of Heaven and Hell, the Resurrection and the Life, and a stirring Last Judgment with a scroll representing infinity above a River of Fire, and a detail of Jesus saving Adam's and Eve's souls from the devil.
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St Savior in Chora - History
Kariye museum or the Church of St. Saviour in Chora is the most interesting Byzantine church in Istanbul, after the Haghia Sophia. Also check the Pammakaristos gallery. It contains both frescoes and mosaics (1315-1321), restored by the Byzantine Institute of America. Chora means “in the country”, because the monastery it was attached to stood outside the Constantian walls, later when the Theodosian walls were erected the name remained. Symbolicaly the name received the implication of referring to “Christ”, him being “the land of the Living”. Adapted from Sumner-Boyd and Freely Strolling through Istanbul, a very good book. You may want to compare the pictures with those of Cappadocia Churches at Göreme Open Air Museum If you want to see old Roman mosaics, you should visit my Antakya Museum gallery or the Zeugma museum in Gaziantep. I came across a site with reconstructions of Istanbul monuments around 1200, for instance the Monastery of Christ of Chora.
Kariye Müzesi diğer adıyla Chora St. Saviour Kilisesi, Ayasofya’dan sonra İstanbul’daki en ilginç Bizans kilisesidir. Bu nedenle, onun için ayrı bir galeri oluşturdum. Kilise, hem duvar resimleri hem de mozaikleri (1315-1321) içerir, bunlar Bizans Amerikan Enstitüsü tarafından restore edilmiştir. Chora “Şehir duvarlarında dışında” anlamına gelir bunun nedeni kilisenin bağl ı bulunduğu manastırın Konstantin duvarlarının dışında kalmasıdır. Sonradan Theodosian duvarları yapılmış olsa da isim aynı kalmıştır. İsim sembolik olarak “yaşayanların toprağı” olması ile sembolik olarak “İsa”yla bağlantılı bir anlam kazanmıştır. Çok güzel bir kitap olan “Sumner-Boyd and Freely Strolling Through İstanbul”dan uyarlandı.
Resimleri, Göreme Açık Hava Müzesi'ndeki Kapadokya Kiliseleriyle karşılaştırmak isteyebilirsiniz. Eski Roma mozaiklerini görmek isterseniz, Antakya Müzesi galerimi veya Zeugma museum Gaziantepte ziyaret edebilirsiniz.
Türkçe çeviri: Melek Emir. Katkılarından dolayı teşekkür ederim.