Kariye Camii (St. Savior in Chora), Istanbul

Built in the 11th century and decorated in the 14th, the Church of St. Savior in Chora (formerly the Kariye Camii and now the Kariye Müzesi) in Istanbul contains one of the best-preserved collections of Byzantine mosaics and frescoes anywhere.

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History

The first church on this site was built in the 4th century as part of a monastery complex outside the city walls of Constantinople. This is the reason for the "in Chora" part of its name - chora zonton means "in the country" in Greek. The present building dates from the 11th century.

The interior was restored and richly decorated with mosaics and frescoes in the early 14th century by Theodore Metokhites, Grand Logothete of the Treasury.

When the church was converted into a mosque in the 16th century, the Byzantine mosaics were covered in plaster. This protected them for several centuries. They were first uncovered in the 19th century, but the government ordered that those in the prayer hall section of the mosque be re-covered.

American archaeologists uncovered the mosaics for good during World War II and the church-turned-mosque became a secular museum in 1947.

What to See

The front (west narthex) of St. Savior in Chora overlooks a small square occupied by a cafe with outdoor tables. Behind the church is a pretty garden with great views of the apses and domes of the church. The bathrooms are back here, too.

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 esonarthex (two lateral west porches). These depict scenes from the life of the Virgin and the early life of Christ.

The later life of Christ was probably depicted in mosaics in the nave (or naos), but now only three mosaic panels survive in this central room: the Dormition of the Virgin over the west door; Christ to the left of the apse; and the Virgin and Child to the right of the apse.

The exonarthex is just inside the west entrance. It is a lateral hall 4 m wide and 23 m long. The subjects of its mosaics include:

The esonarthex runs parallel to the exonarthex between it and the nave. It is also 4m wide but slightly shorter at 18 m long. Its eastern door leads into the nave while a southern door leads into the antechamber of the parecclesion and a northern door leads into a north aisle outside the nave.

The mosaics in the first three bays of the inner narthex depict the Life of the Virgin and her parents Anne and Joachim. The esonarthex has two domes: the smaller above the entrance to the northern corridor; the larger midway between the entrances into the naos and the pareclession.

Mosaic subjects in the esonarthex include the following:

Running along the south side of the central church is a Paracclesion - a burial chamber or mortuary chapel used by the patron and his family. It is decorated with frescoes, which were painted shortly after the mosaics and probably by the same artist. Appropriate to their context in the burial chamber, the frescoesdepict themes relating to the afterlife:

Quick Facts on Kariye Camii (St. Savior in Chora)

Site Information
Names:Kariye Camii (St. Savior in Chora)
Country:Turkey
Categories:churches
Dedication: Holy Savior
Status: museum
Visitor and Contact Information
Coordinates:41.031226° N, 28.939018° E
Address:Istanbul, Turkey
Lodging:View hotels near Kariye Camii (St. Savior in Chora)
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours and prices can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

References

  1. David Talbot Rice, Art of the Byzantine Era (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997), 223-32. Thames and Hudson World of Art Series.
  2. Chora Museum - Turkeyvision.com (includes detailed plan of mosaics)
  3. Chora Church - Wikipedia
  4. St. Savior in Chora (Kariye Müzesi; formerly the Kariye Camii) - Frommer's
  5. Kariye Camii - Welcome to Constantinople by Prof. Robert Ousterhout
  6. Maria Palaiologina - Wikipedia

More Information

Front exterior of the former church. © Charles Roffey
Interior view of the central sanctuary or nave, looking towards the entrance. Over the door is a mosaic of the... © Dick Osseman
Closer view of the Dormition (Death) of the Virgin Mary. © Dick Osseman
© Daryl
Close-up look at the tesserae that make up the beautiful mosaics. © vtbrak
Golden mosaics on the exonarthex vault, looking north. © Daryl
© Dick Osseman
Golden mosaics on the vault of the esonarthex (inner west porch). © Daryl
Icon of Christ as part of a Deesis (Christ with Mary and John the Baptist). © Dick Osseman
© Pierre Metivier
The Last Judgment. © Pierre Metivier

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