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Chora Church (Kariye Museum)

CHORA CHURCH (KARIYE MUSEUM)

One of the most beautiful surviving examples...

Chora The Church of the Holy Savior (also known as Kariye) is a former Byzantine church, later Ottoman mosque, and currently to a museum located in the Edirnekapi neighborhood of Istanbul. The dictionary meaning of Kariye (Chora) is "outside of the city", or "rural" in old Greek. The existence of a chapel outside the city walls in very old is mentioned in some sources.

The first Chora Church was built on the site of this chapel by Justinianus. The building which managed to survive until the times of the Commenos with various additions and repairs, gained importance when the Imperial Palace Blakhernia near the city walls was expanded. At the end of 11th century Maria Dukaina, the mother-in-law of Emperor Alexi I had it rebuild. The church has a kiborion shaped space whose dome is carried by four arches. During the Latin occupation of 1204 - 1261, both the monastery and the church became extremely run down. During the reign of Andronikos (1282 - 1326), one of the prominent names of the day, the writer, poet and the minister of treasury Theodore Metochites had the monastery and the church repaired towards 1313, and had an annex to the north of the building, an outer narthex to the west and a chapel (Parekklesion) to the south. These new additions were decorated with frescoes and mosaics. Parekklesion, which is a long single-naved chapel-going along the southern façade, is built above a basement floor. It is partially covered with a dome and the remaining sections are covered by vaults. It has a single abscissa. The outer narthex which runs along the full western facade forms the present façade. The northern wing is only an insignificant corridor. The central dome has a high drum. It is a Turkish period restoration and is made of wood. Outer facades are given plasticity and movement with round arches, half braces, niches and rows of stone and brick. The eastern facade is finished with abscissa extending to the exterior. The middle abscissa is supported with a half arched brace.

The building was used as a church after the conquest of İstanbul but was converted into a mosque in 1511 by the Visier Grand Hadım Ali Pasha, who later added a school and an alm kitchen next to it. After the conversion, the mosaics and frescoes were covered, sometimes by wooden blinds and sometimes by whitewashing over them. All the mosaics and frescoes were uncovered with the work carried out by the American Institute of Byzantine Research between 1948 - 1958.

Chora mosaics and frescoes are the most beautiful examples of the last period of Byzantine art (14th century). They show a striking similarity. The monotonous background of the former period cannot be seen here. The concept of depth, recognition of the plasticity and movement of the figures and the elongation in the figures are the characteristic of this style. Scenes from the life of Jesus are given on the outer narthex while the inner narthex has scenes from the life of Madonna. On the portal of the door joining the outer to the inner narthex, there is Christ the "Pantocrator". On the left the scenes depict the birth of Jesus, population census being carried out under the supervision of Governor Cyrinus, the angel telling Joseph to leave taking Mary with him, the multiplication of loaves of bread, water turning to wine and on the right side scenes such as messenger kings informing about the birth of Christ, healing of the stroke victims and the massacre of children.

The most beautiful mosaic on the inside is Deisis. There is Jesus in the center with Mary on the left, below Mary, Isaac Comnenus and a nun on the right of Jesus. This woman is the daughter of the Mikhael Palaiologos VIII. She was married to the Mongolian Prince Abaka Khan and following her husband's death returned to İstanbul and became a member of a religious order. In this section, under the dome there is Jesus and his ancestors are shown in the segments. On the portal of the church proper, there is Christ in the middle and on the left Theodoros Metochites who has restored the church and adorned it with the mosaics presenting a model of the church.

The life story of Mary, which is not included in the Bible is taken from subjects based on the Apostles. At the inner narthex the scenes about Mary can be followed depicting her birth, her first steps, Gabriel tells her that she shall have a child, Mary buying wool for the tabernacle and others. Mosaic above the inner portal of the entrance to the main church depicts the death of the Virgin, Madonna bearing the child Jesus and a Saint. Parekklesion is totally decorated with frescoes. The Anastasia (rebirth) scene seen on the abscissa is a masterpiece. The last judgment above it is shown here in full. It is known that the niche on the right and left sides of the Parekklesion are graves. On the dome of the Parekklesion, there is Mary and the child Jesus and 12 in the segments.

It is considered to be one of the most beautiful surviving examples of Byzantine churches. In the 16th century, during the Ottoman era, it was converted into a mosque and, finally, it became a museum in 1948. The interior of the building is covered with fine mosaics and frescoes.

The last part of that name is referring to its location originally outside of the walls, became the shortened name of it. The original church on this site was built in the early 5th century and stood outside of the 4th-century walls of Constantine the Great.

However, when Theodosius II built his formidable land walls in 413 - 414, Chora Church became incorporated within the city's defense but retained the name.

It is not as large as some of the other surviving Byzantine churches of Istanbul (it covers 742.5 m²) but it is unique among them, because of its almost completely still extant internal decoration.

Inside, there are about 50 mosaic panels dating from about 1310, most in excellent shape. Virtually all the subjects of the mosaics derive from the New Testament and they are presented in roughly chronological order. Most of the mosaics are in the exonarthex and exonarthex (two lateral west porches). These depict scenes from the life of the Virgin and the early life of Christ.