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.
The Kariye Museum 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 of the church you're not allowed to use flash while taking photographs.
The typical Ottoman neighborhood with wooden and colorful houses outside the museum is also very interesting to stroll around. Just a few minutes on foot from the museum, you can also see the city wall and the Tekfur Palace, or visit Mihrimah Sultan mosque.
The museum is open between 09:00 - 16:30 except on Wednesdays, but it has longer opening hours during summer months. Admission fee is 15 TL.
Phone: +90 212 6319241
Please note that admission fees, opening times or days of closure of the museums might be changed without prior notice, or that museum or section might be closed for restorations. To be certain on the closure days or opening times, you can call the museum directly (country code for Turkey is +90) or contact me to double check.
Important note: Some sections of the museum will be closed in 2014 for restorations.