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In a city the size of İstanbul it’s hardly surprising that people can live here for decades and still not have visited every part of it. What is a little more surprising, however, is to stumble on a part of the old city inside the ancient walls that goes virtually unvisited by foreigners. The area around Edirnekapı used to be a bit like that, but these days a growing number of coach parties pass through on their way to visit the Chora Church (Kariye Museum). The part of town around Cerrahpaşa and Haseki, though, is still completely off-the-beaten-track despite being within easy walking distance of Aksaray. Historically, this was a very important part of the city, the place where the old slave market used to stand and thus the place where some of the women who rose to power in the Topkapı Palace harem changed hands on their path to the sultan’s bed. But it was also a part of town picked by several dignitaries of the Ottoman court who chose to adorn it with magnificent mosque complexes, some of them by the great architect Mimar Sinan. To find Cerrahpaşa you need to alight from the tram at Aksaray, cross the busy interchange and look for the 18th-century Ebu Bekir Paşa schoolroom, which now houses a humble teahouse. From there you should head along Namık Kemal Caddesi to find the Cerrahpaşa Cami, which was built in 1593 by Davud Ağa, a pupil of Sinan who succeeded him as chief architect. In the grounds stands the tomb of Cerrah (Surgeon) Paşa, the barber who had the honor of circumcising the future Mehmed III and who was awarded the title of surgeon for his pains. If you continue along Cerrahpaşa Caddesi and then turn left along Haseki Kadın Sokağı you will come to the enormous Bulgur Palas, built in 1912 in the style known as First National Architecture for Mehmed Habib Bey, who made a fortune in cracked wheat (hence the name) and then went on to become a deputy for Bolu. One of the architects who worked on it was Giulio Mongeri, who was also responsible for St. Anthony’s Church on İstiklal Caddesi as well as for the Maçka Palas building that now houses the Park Hyatt Hotel. If, instead, you turn right along Haseki Kadın Sokağı you will come to one of the city’s more curious and easily overlooked monuments, namely the Column of Arcadius, erected in his own honor by the Emperor Arcadius in 402. The column was torn down for safety reasons in 1715, which means that only the base survives, squeezed in between a house and a car park. In winter it’s clearly visible, although at this time of year it’s largely obscured by foliage. Believe it or not, the area around this column where there is now a children’s playground was once the Roman Forum of Arcadius, and then the site of the Avrat Pazarı, or Women’s Slave Market, which survived until 1847. There’s nothing left to show for it today, not even a commemorative plaque, but it’s thought that among the many women to have passed through it were Roxelana, who became the wife of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent and whose beautiful bath complex in Sultanahmet Square is currently under restoration; Kösem Sultan, the wife of Sultan Ahmed I and, as co-regent for her sons and grandson, one of the most powerful of all Ottoman women; and Mihrişah Sultan, the mother of Sultan Selim III. At the end of Haseki Sultan Sokağı you will come to the Bayrampaşa mosque complex, which is split in two by the road with the mosque on the left-hand side of the road and the medrese (theological seminary) on the right. Bayram Paşa was a grand vizier to Sultan Murad IV, who died during the campaign to recapture Baghdad in 1638 and who gave his name to the area of İstanbul around the Esenler bus station. His tomb is in a very poor state of repair, but a mescid and dervish tekke (lodge) that formed part of the complex now house a women’s clinic. If you turn left onto Haseki Caddesi you will come to the Haseki Hürrem mosque complex, which was built by Sinan for Roxelana in 1539. It’s the third largest such complex in the city after the Fatih and Süleymaniye models, which makes it all the more remarkable that it is so little known or visited. The mosque itself stands on the left-hand side of the road in a cramped courtyard, but the medrese over the road must once have been magnificent, to judge from the delicate tiled panels removed from above its windows and placed in the İstanbul Archeological Museum for safekeeping. Behind it the imaret (soup kitchen) bristles with chimneys alongside a splendid hospital building. Sadly, none of the complex is actually open to the public, and even the mosque seems reluctant to admit visitors. A little bit of zigzagging around the back streets will bring you to the older Davutpaşa Cami, which was built for Davud Paşa, a grand vizier to Sultan Beyazıd II, in 1485 and whose tomb stands right beside it. Across the road, the medrese is one of the oldest in the city but stands in ruins, unlike the Fatih İbrahim Paşa Medresesi, a little way west of Cerrahpaşa Hospital, which was erected in 1560 but badly damaged by an earthquake in 1894. It has just been completely restored (rebuilt might be a better word). Even if you’re starting to feel all mosqued out, it’s still worth heading up Ese Kapısı Sokağı to find the Hekimoğlu Ali Paşa Cami, which was built in 1734-5 in a style that segues neatly from classical Sinanesque into early baroque as exemplified by its main entrance, which blends traditional stalactite decoration with more rococo elements. The mosque itself is particularly beautiful, but you should make sure not to miss either the lovely sebil (water dispensary) built into the walls on the corner, or the wonderful library housed above the main gate. Books here are encased in a cage above the ground and still have to be accessed via a ladder. Another curious reminder of the Byzantine period can be found nearby, and that is the Cistern of St. Mocius, a vast open-air reservoir that may have been used to store water for irrigation in Byzantine times. At 25,000 square meters, it’s big enough to enclose a park and children’s play area. Just look for a monumental hole in the ground, and you’ve found it. Finally, if you continue west along Kocamustafapaşa Caddesi you will come to a busy square where many buses terminate. Here, too, is the inconspicuous Ramazan Efendi Cami, the last work of Sinan, designed in 1586 when he was 96. It contains a fine collection of İznik tiles, although you may only be able to get inside to inspect them around prayer time on Friday.
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kcrevby Robert Ousterhout, author of The Art of the Kariye Camii Article with historic photgraphs published in Cornucopia 27 The dramatic mosaics and frescoes of Istanbul’s Kariye Camii, or Church of the Chora, blew away the stiff conventions of Byzantine art. Their energy leaves Giotto looking staid. But theyare now in danger of turning to dust. The powerful pictures on these pages are from a new book by Robert Ousterhout, who fell in love with the church twenty-five years ago. Here he makes a passionate case for preserving this fourteenth-century masterpiece When I first set foot in the Kariye Camii years ago, I fell in love. It was the academic equivalent of a blind date – I’d committed myself, sight unseen, to write a PhD dissertation about a building I’d never seen in a city I’d never visited. Happily, the Kariye caught and held my interest. In fact, the Kariye proved to be the perfect blind date, possessing both beauty and brains. As I quickly discovered, the dazzling spectacle of its mosaics and frescoes was balanced by a coherent architectural framework and by firm intellectual underpinnings. It is one of Istanbul’s greatest treasures, once the main church of the Byzantine monastery of the Chora, and now a well-visited museum. Built and decorated between 1316 and 1321, the Kariye represents the patronage of Theodore Metochites, one of Byzantium’s greatest intellectuals, who was both an accomplished poet and prime minister. As sophisticated and erudite as a contemporary work of Byzantine literature, the Kariye is structured like a vast epic poem. Theodore Metochites, famously depicted above the entrance in his big hat, was not only a powerful politician and the greatest scholar of his age, but he was also fabulously wealthy – the ideal patron for a project like the Kariye. More importantly, he was fortunate to find artists capable of translating his vision into built form. The hothouse conditions Metochites provided led to one of the most experimental periods of Byzantine art. If the word originality can be applied to the Byzantine, the Kariye is as original as it gets. As the art historian Otto Demus once commented, at first glance the art of the Kariye seems to have no acknowledged canons, as if the artists preferred the abnormal to the normal, the distorted to the regular, the chaotic to the harmonious. It is the Byzantine equivalent of Postmodernism, breaking all the rules, but doing so in such a delightful way that we barely notice. As the key monument of late Byzantine art and architecture, there is absolutely nothing that can compare with it in Istanbul, or anywhere else for that matter. Ten years after my first encounter, I was still in love with the Kariye. Our relationship had survived the dissertation, the revisions and, finally, the publication of the monograph. Then, after twenty-five years, I celebrated our silver anniversary with the publication of a second book. Although I began with a study of bricks and mortar, I found I couldn’t ignore the mosaics and frescoes. To be sure, I have been involved in a variety of other projects, but I keep coming back to the Kariye. With its intricate architectural settings and its wealth of decoration, with each visit I seem to discover something new. On my last, for example, I started noticing the trees, how and where they are represented: in addition to a variety of expressive stumps and shrubbery in the mosaics, I realised that David of Thessaloniki, a dendrite (that is, a hermit who sat in a tree) shown at the entrance to the funeral chapel, is positioned equidistant from Christ Calling Zaccheus (who had climbed a tree in order to see Christ as he passed through Jericho) and Moses Before the Burning Bush. In each, we witness an encounter with the divine – Old Testament, New Testament, Byzantine. Byzantine poets loved this kind of comparison. On an earlier visit, a friend pointed out how the drama and violence in the mosaic of the soldier pursuing Elizabeth with the infant John the Baptist (the last scene in the cycle of the Massacre of the Innocents) is emphasised by the soldier’s sword severing Elizabeth’s name in the inscription: eli-sabeth. Words and images work together. Guidebooks are quick to point out the contemporaneity of the Kariye with the work of Giotto – as if we needed the Italian Renaissance to appreciate Byzantine art. There is certainly a similar power and sense of life in both, but the Byzantine artist worked differently from his Italian counterpart. Giotto developed an early system of perspective, so that his scenes appear as if viewed through a window, in a space beyond the picture plane. In contrast, for the Byzantine artist, pictorial space and the space occupied by the viewer were one and the same. As a consequence, the scenes at the Kariye have a greater sense of immediacy and are thus more emotionally compelling. What is more, the setting for the art is not the flat walls of a big anonymous box (the typical Italian church), but rather a series of small, tightly interlocking spaces, in which architectural form and decoration are perfectly fitted together. We are led – personally, experientially – from one space to the next by the narrative, by the gestures of the figures and by the visual and thematic connections between the scenes. The Byzantine artist did not attempt to create an artificial space through the science of perspective; instead, he created three-dimensional representations that come to life as we interact with them. Where else can we walk through the midst of the Last Judgment, with the scroll of heaven rolled up above our heads, flanked by the blessed and the damned? The Kariye owes its preservation to the vagaries of history. It is set in what was originally a rural area by the land walls – the name Chora may be translated as “in the fields” – in the northern corner of the city, which became a hub of activity in the late Byzantine period, with the nearby Blachernae Palace as the main imperial residence. After the Ottoman conquest in 1453, however, the centre shifted back to the end of the peninsula, to Topkapi Palace, and the Chora church became an all-but-forgotten neighbourhood mosque. Through the early Ottoman centuries, its decoration remained uncovered and, in fact, was never completely covered. The frescoes were whitewashed, some of the lower mosaics were removed, but the dome mosaics remained visible, and some of the wall panels were covered with wooden doors – to be opened to visitors for a small tip. When the Byzantine Institute of America undertook its extensive programme of cleaning and consolidation between 1948 and 1960, the surviving mosaics and frescoes were discovered to be in pristine condition. Not so today. Both the Kariye and I are older than when we first met. The rapid growth of Istanbul’s population has increased the levels of humidity and pollution throughout the city. Crowds of visitors have also raised the level of humidity inside the building, which may be compounded by the lush garden planted close to its foundations, as well as by leaks in the roof and windows. The results are all too visible: in the parekklesion (the funeral chapel) the painted plaster has crumbled away at floor level, and efflorescence, or “bloom” (dampness causing salts to leach through the plaster and collect as a cloudy white substance on the surface), now obscures many painted scenes. For example, Theophanes the Hymnographer is represented below the dome in the parekklesion. He pauses while writing a funeral ode on the theme of Jacob’s Ladder as a guarantee of our access to heaven, holding his pen to point towards the adjacent scene of Jacob’s Ladder and, beneath it, the tomb of Theodore Metochites. His meaningful gesture, which served visually to connect these several elements of the composition, is now all but invisible. A similar cloud of bloom obscures the Daughter of Jairus, raised from the dead by the hand of Christ, as well as the figure of Satan bound and gagged in the great fresco of the Anastasis (the Resurrection) which forms the visual termination of the parekklesion. Within the mosaics, protective covers of Perspex have created micro-environments in which the humidity is concentrated, causing the setting plaster to crumble. What is to be done? First, a careful evaluation of the building, its mosaics and frescoes, is required, followed by a comprehensive programme of conservation, regular monitoring, and possibly the installation of climate controls. In France, the Lascaux caves, with their famous prehistoric paintings, have been closed to tourism and the interior environment sealed, controlled and carefully monitored. Even the scientists are allowed only limited access. It may be that nothing quite so drastic is required at the Kariye, but as a new government is elected, it might be worth reminding it that the long-term preservation of Turkey’s unique cultural heritage deserves greater priority than the quick-fix economics of tourism. As I escorted a friend’s aged grandmother through the Kariye recently, it occurred to me that old buildings are like grandparents. We love them just as much in their old age. But they require periodic check-ups and regular care – and occasionally treatment by specialists and prescription medicines. I am still in love with the Kariye Camii, but right now it needs urgent medical attention. © Robert Ousterhout Robert Ousterhout’s earlier book, ‘The Architecture of the Kariye Camii in Istanbul’ (Dumbarton Oaks Studies 25, 1987), is available from www.doaks.org
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Leander's Tower That Istanbul is a real treasure chest for history, art and architecture freaks is no secret. Its colorful mosaic of historical city structures — mosques, churches, synagogues, palaces, castles and towers — reflects the many, many social and cultural influences of a number of foreign communities that have left their indelible footprints across the city throughout its long history. The oldest settlement on the land that is now İstanbul was, however, Greek. Already, in 685 B.C., settlers from the ancient Greek town of Megara chose to colonize the town of Chalcedon, in today’s Kadıköy district, thus aiming to secure the Bosporus as a channel of trade between the Greek polities and the Black Sea region. Some years later, in 667 B.C., famous Greek King Byzas went on colonizing the European side of the Bosporus further, thus founding the city of Byzantion. Two prominent examples of ancient Greek architecture are the Serpentine Column and Leander’s Tower. Being approximately 2,500 years old, the Serpentine Column is said to be İstanbul’s oldest remaining Greek monument. Erected to honor the triumph of the Greeks over the Persians at Plataea, it originally stood at Delphi (both ancient cities on Greek ground) and was moved to İstanbul in 324 B.C. by Constantine the Great to mark the declaration of the new capital city of the then-founded Roman Empire under the name of Constantinople. The originally eight-meter-high piece was made up of three intertwined serpents which supported a golden bowl. The bowl is believed to have been lost or stolen when the city was sacked during the Fourth Crusade. Some say the heads were hit and cut off by a drunken nobleman in the 17th century but one of them can still be seen in the İstanbul Archaeology Museum. The rest of the column can be found today at the Hippodrome in the Sultanahmet quarter. Surrounded by no fewer stories is Leander’s Tower, often referred to as Maiden’s Tower and located offshore in the Bosporus in the Üsküdar district. It was actually built in 408 B.C. by an Athenian general to control Persian ships sailing along the Bosporus. Another more well-known story is that of a sultan who erected the tower to protect his daughter from a snake bite, predicted by an oracle. But, as the story goes, there was no way to escape destiny: On the day of her 18th birthday, the sultan brought his daughter a basket of fruit as a gift and hiding within it, of course, was the predicted snake. The tower, which also contains a small, romantic restaurant, can be visited today by taking one of the small boats that sail from the nearby shore. However, with the fall of Rome in 476, all that remained of the Roman Empire was its eastern part, which then came to be known as the Byzantine Empire. Distinctly Greek in culture and the center of Greek Orthodox Christianity, its capital, Constantinople, was adorned with many magnificent churches, including probably the most well known, Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia), once the world’s largest Christian cathedral. Other important churches that were built later on under Byzantine rule include the Pammakaristos Church, which is now Fethiye Mosque in the Çarşamba neighborhood of today’s Fatih district, and the Church of St. Savior in Chora, situated in the western Edirnekapı district of İstanbul and especially famous for its beautiful mosaics and paintings. After the capture of the capital of the Byzantine Empire by the Ottoman Empire, under the command of Sultan Mehmed II (Mehmet the Conqueror) in 1453, naturally many city structures were destroyed. Mehmed’s main concern with İstanbul had to do with rebuilding the city’s defenses and re-population, and he soon devoted much energy to bringing prosperity to İstanbul. In 1459, he sent out orders that any Greeks — as well as Slavs, Jews and Armenians — who had left İstanbul as slaves or refugees and whose diverse skills were needed now to transform the city into a flourishing capital of the empire were allowed to return to the city. Every third inhabitant in İstanbul was Greek According to a census of 1477, there were 9,486 houses occupied by Muslims, 3,743 by Greeks, 1,647 by Jews, 267 by Christians from Crimea and 31 by Gypsies. Nearly every third inhabitant of the city was Greek at that time, so the Greek population played a significant role in the social, political and economic life of the city and the multiethnic, multi-religious Ottoman Empire in general. The leader of the Greek community within the empire officially became the ecumenical patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, which was moved to the Church of St. George in İstanbul’s Fener district in 1586. The patriarchate complex includes the authorization offices, the patriarchate library, the financial offices and the public enterprises of the patriarchate and the Cathedral Church of St. George. The church is definitely worth visiting. It is especially famous for its priceless artifacts and relics, which include the patriarchal throne, believed to date from the fifth century; three rare mosaic icons; a fragment of the Pillar of the Flagellation to which Jesus was tied and whipped; and the coffins of the three saints. Further on, the Greek High School for boys on the top of Fener hill became an important educational institution to educate young Greeks for Ottoman bureaucracy and orthodox clergy as well. The Yoakimyon High School for girls and Marasli Greek Elementary School next to the patriarchate are other schools that can still be found in the district. As you see, the list of Greek footprints in İstanbul seems endless. To start tracing them back, just take a small tour of Fener — you will come across an incredible number of smaller, more or less well-preserved churches, and you can still find a few of the typical, small Greek single-family houses, recognizable by their finely decorated facades. Just take a look — it’s well worth it! by Kristina Kamp
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DeisisWalk through the door of the Chora Monastery Museum and you step back in time. One-thousand-four-hundred-seventy-three years, to be exact, when Chora was one the many beautiful churches that adorned Constantinople, the jewel in Byzantium’s crown. When it was built, Chora was outside the Walls of Constantine, and so, today, is a bit off the beaten path — away from the long tourist magnets that are Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace. “Chora,” in Greek, means “rural,” or “in the country,” and the monastery kept that name after it was incorporated within the enlarged Theodosian Walls. But the name “Chora,” also alludes to another, everlasting, realm: “I Chóra Ton Zónton,” The World of The Living,” proclaims an icon of Christ above the nave door. It’s one of the few mosaics that did not sustain damage during Fourth Crusade 1204 sack of Constantinople. Evidence of this destruction — and that caused by the passage of 14 centuries — is seen in the bare walls and domes that once were filled with priceless mosaics. Next to Christ Pantocrator.” (“He Who Holds All,” The Lord of the Universe.) That’s Theódoros Metochites, the man who restored Chora after the Latin invasion. “Metochitis, a Byzantine poet, scientist, and minister of the treasury, kneels before the enthroned Christ, holding in his hands the restored Chora church.” DeisisIcon of Christ of Chalke, the Bronze Gate of the Great Palace. The greatest church in Christendom before St. Peter’s was constructed in Rome 1,000 years later, Hagia Sophia is the very symbol of Byzantium and occupies a special place in the Greek Orthodox heart. But you don’t have to be Greek to appreciate its beauty and history — as Atatürk, the Father of modern Turkey, did in 1935 when he proclaimed Hagia Sophia a museum. Hagia Sophia’s Deisis (Supplication) mosaic, qualifies it as a World Heritage Site. The Mother of God, a Chora dome mosaic. The virgin, clad in a blue chiton, reclines on a purple cushion by a cave housing the manger. The ox and the ass look on as divine light bathes the Child. To the left of the cave appear angels, and to the right another angelic messenger gives the Good News to the shepherds residing in the fields. The Nativity is just one of the beautiful scenes from the lives of Christ and the Virgin found in Chora. You could teach a whole Bible class just by walking around and pointing at the mosaics in this beautiful church: besides The Nativity, there are, The Presentation of the Virgin to the Temple, The Annunciation, The Flight into Egypt, The Miracle at Cana, Christ Healing the Leper, The Samaritan Woman at the Well, Christ Healing the Blind Man, Christ Healing the Paralytic, The Temptation of Christ, The Resurrection, treasures all. The mosaic just below the dome of The Genealogy of Christ, a depiction of the Virgin Mary with Christ of the Chalke, especially moving. Named for an icon of Christ that hung above the Chalke, the “Bronze” Gate, the main ceremonial gate to the Great Palace. Reminiscent of the more famous Hagia Sophia Deisis Christ, this is the face of a benevolent God. chora church -  mother of god With Avar armies at the gates, those prayers were answered, and Patriarch and people gathered in Hagia Sophia to offer thanksgiving to the Mother of God for The City’s deliverance. (The City, I Polis, as Constantinople was known, is found in the name of Turkey’s largest city and artistic and cultural capital: Is Tin Polin, To The City — Istanbul.) In thanksgiving was written a beautiful long hymn, Ti Ypermáho, “To the Invincible General.” After a millenium-and-a-half it is still being sung in Orthodox churches for five consecutive Friday evenings before Easter Sunday. An Orthodx hymn that accompanies our Chora video, who’s beloved melody is dear to my soul. Hearing it now brings back Constantinople’s fateful history and The City’s special place in the Greek psyche. A hymn that I find myself humming in front of the Chora mosaic icon of the Mother of God: Ti Ypermáho Stragigó ta nikitíria, Os lytrothisa ton dinón efharistíria, Anagráfo Soi i Pólis sou Theotóke. All’ os éhousa to krátos aprosmáhiton, Ek pantíon me kindínon elefthéroson. Ína krázo soi; Hére Nífi Anímfefte. “To Thee, Invincible General, I ascribe the victory/Having been delivered from suffering, Your City offers thanksgiving/to You O Mother of God./And having your might unassailable/Free us from all dangers/So we may cry unto you/Hail O Bride Unwedded.” In the end, there could be no deliverance — 5,000 defenders besieged by 350,000 Ottomans — The City — and Byzantium — fell.
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joseph taking mary into his houseThe building, known today known as the Kariye (Chora) Museum, was built on the site of the Chora Monastery. “Chora” means “outside the city” or “countryside” in Ancient Greek. The Roman city walls were erected before the 5th century and show us that the monastery was built earlier than that. This name was preserved for churches that were built on this site, and the last church, which dates from the l1th to 14th century, constituted the base of the present-day museum. The building was decorated with magnificent mosaics and frescoes, which are considered to be masterpieces of Byzantine art. it was built by Theodore Metochites, who was a leading statesman and scholar of his day. In the mosaics of the two narthexes located at the entrance, the Iives of the Virgin Maryand Jesus Christ, as told in the Bible, are illustrated in chronological order. In the lateral chapel, religious subjects are depicted in frescaes. In these frescoes, you can also see the figures of notable personalities from the Church and the Palace. The mosaics and frescaes, which, were discovered and restored, in the 1950s, are the works of a group of prominent artists. The mosaics that were located on the upper side of the centralnarthex do not exist today. it was one of the features of Byzantine art to add monograms and inscription next to the figures. The Kariye museum is located in a beautiful district fall of wooden hotel (Kariye Otel) and cafes (Asitane Restaurant).
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