Chora Church (Kariye Museum)

July 2, 2009 by  
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Chora Church Exterior - from its garden

The Kariye Museum (Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, Chora Church) has the best Byzantine mosaics in the region. If you can spare two hours, you must see them. (Note: the museum is closed Wednesday.)

As the Kariye/Chora Church is out-of-the-way, one of the best ways to visit is on a half-day Istanbul city tour that also visits the nearby city walls, Tekfur Sarayi, Yedikule, etc. More…

Originally built in the 4th century as the ‘Church of the Holy Savior Outside the Walls’ or ‘in the Country’ (chora), it was indeed outside the walls built by Constantine the Great.

The building you see was built in the late 11th century, with lots of repairs and restructuring in the following centuries. Virtually all of the interior decoration—the famous mosaics and the less renowned but equally striking mural paintings—dates from about 1320.

The mosaics are breathtaking. The first ones are those of the dedication, to Jesus and Mary. Then come the offertory ones: Theodore Metochites, builder of the church, offering it to Jesus.

The two small domes of the inner narthex have portraits of all Jesus’s ancestors back to Adam. A series outlines Mary’s life, and another, Jesus’s early years. Yet another series concentrates on Jesus’s ministry.

In the nave are three mosaics: of Jesus, of Mary as Teacher, and of the Dormition of Mary (turn around to see this one-it’s over the main door you just entered).

South of the nave is the Parecclesion, a side chapel built to hold the tombs of the church’s founder and relatives. The frescos, appropriately, deal with the theme of death and resurrection.

The church was enclosed within the walls built by the Emperor Theodosius II in 413, less than 100 years after Constantine, so the church ‘outside the walls’ has in fact been ‘in the city’ for 1550 years.

For four centuries after the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul it served as a mosque (Kariye Camii), and is now a museum (Kariye Müzesi) because of its priceless mosaics.

To get to the Kariye Museum (closed Wednesday), if you don’t take an Istanbul city tour, a taxi is easiest but most expensive.

You can save money (but not time) by taking any bus that stops at Edirnekapi.

When you reach Edirnekapi, ask for directions by saying Kariye (KAH-ree-yeh) to anyone you see. The museum is only a five-minute walk east of the boulevard. Neighborhood people will happily point the way through the maze of tiny streets.

On the south side of the Kariye Müzesi is the Kariye Oteli, housed in a renovated Ottoman mansion. Asitane (AH-see-TAH-neh, an Ottoman sobriquet for Istanbul), the hotel’s garden restaurant, features fine Ottoman cuisine and excellent service in a refined atmosphere, at suitably lofty prices.

The building facing the Kariye Museum was once the Kariye Muhallebicisi or Pudding Shop, an old Istanbul institution.

From Kariye, head west to the city walls, then north again, and you’ll soon come to the Palace of Constantine Porphyrogenetus, the Tekfur Sarayi (tehk-FOOR sar-rah-yuh), closed in 2006 for restoration and still closed in early 2009.

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Palace of the Porphyrogenitus

Palace of Porphyrogenitus

The Palace of the Porphyrogenitus or of Constantine Porphyrogenitus (Turkish: Tekfur Sarayı, which means “Palace of the born in the purple”) refers to the ruins of a 13th century Byzantine palace in the north-western part of the old city of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey).

The Palace was constructed during the late 12th or early 13th centuries as part of the palace complex of Blachernae, where the Theodosian Walls join with the later walls of the suburb of Blachernae. Although the palace appears at first glance to be named after the 10th century emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, it was built long after his time, and is in fact named after Constantine Palaiologos, a son of the Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos. “Porphyrogenitus”, meaning literally “born to the purple”, indicating a child born to a reigning emperor. The palace served as an imperial residence during the final years of the Byzantine Empire.

The palace suffered extensive damage due to its proximity to the outer walls during the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Afterwards it was used for a wide variety of purposes. During the 16th and 17th century, it housed part of the Sultan’s menagerie. The animals were moved elsewhere by the end of the 17th century, and the building was used as a brothel. From 1719, the Tekfur Sarayı pottery workshop was established, and began to produce ceramic tiles in a style similar to that of İznik tiles, but influenced by European designs and colors. The workshop had five kilns and also produced vessels and dishes.[2] It lasted for around a century before going out of business, and by the first half of the 19th century, the building became a poorhouse for Istanbul Jews. In the early 20th century, it was briefly used as a bottle factory, before being abandoned.[3] As a result, only the elaborate brick and stone outer façade survives today, the only major surviving example of secular Byzantine architecture. As of 2006, the palace was undergoing extensive restoration.

The Palace was a large three-story building located between the inner and outer fortifications of the northern corner of the Theodosian Walls. The ground floor is an arcade with four arches, which opens into a courtyard overlooked by five large windows on the first floor. The top floor of the structure project above the walls, and has windows on all four sides. On the east is the remnant of a balcony. The roof and all of the floors of the structure have disappeared. The remaining walls are elaborately decorated in geometric designs using red brick and white marble typical of the late Byzantine period.

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