Müze Kart Accepted
Great for: Architecture, Byzantine Churches, Mosaics, Frescoes
Once a monastic complex set in the countryside far from the noise of Constantinople, and later a mosque in the Ottoman period, Chora Museum is a beautiful display of Byzantine religious architecture decorated with shining mosaics and fine frescoes set in modern Istanbul’s Edirnekapı alongside the old city walls.
The name ‘Chora’, meaning countryside, refers to the fact that the church and its surrounding buildings were once beyond the original city walls. Interestingly Chora also is Latin for womb and there is a “chora mosaic” showing the unborn Christ in Mary’s womb.
In 536 AD a monastic complex was built on the ruins of a small chapel. The complex and the church central to it would be ruined and rebuilt many times over the centuries, the current structure being something of a mix of later incarnations atop the foundations of far older buildings. These foundations can be seen exposed in a number of places but especially near the Apsis from the outside.
During the reign of Sultan Beyazit II the church was converted into a mosque and the monastic complex was lost.
Now a museum, the mosaics and frescoes that adorn the walls tell a series of biblical stories, many of which are otherwise rarely depicted in church art. The goal was not simply to decorate but to also teach the stories of the Bible to the illiterate. As such there is an order and narrative from panel to panel and room to room.
If you don’t read Greek or are otherwise having trouble interpreting the artwork I would highly recommend one of the official Chora Museum guidebooks that both lead you through the story in the correct order as well as explain the stories being shown. As a number of these are much less known and in some cases apocryphal the book can be quite helpful.
Unfortunately the building has been in a state of stalled restoration leaving the Nave (or naos, the main sanctuary under the main dome of the church) closed to visitors. Apparently money to continue the restoration work had run out and so the work was abandoned for a couple of years. However, after long delays the work has begun again and though no date is being given at least there is now a hope of seeing the magnificent Nave.
How To Get There
Being in the city itself there are 1001 ways to get to Chora Museum by public transit. There is a close-ish Metrobüs stop called Edirnekapı. The nearest metro stop is Ulubatlı with service from the M1A and M1B metro lines. Beyond this there are countless busses that pass through the great hole in the city wall and any bus that stops at Edirnekapı will drop you off close to the museum.
As Chora Museum is in Edirnekapı, an interesting old neighborhood along the city walls, it’s well worth it to explore the area rather than just taking transit as close as possible. If you can manage the hills, the walk up from the Golden Horn (or Haliç in Turkish) will take you through some of Istanbul’s most interesting neighborhoods. The closest ferry stop is Ayvanseray, though Fener and Eyüp will lead you through more interesting neighborhoods and sights.
Where To Stay
As this is Istanbul your choices are basically endless. That being said, if Chora Museum is where you plan on spending all your time while in Istanbul then there is some conveniently close accommodation right around the museum.
-The higher end Kariye Hotel is located right next to the Museum
-Serra Suites is a cheaper, though not as nice, options only a couple blocks away
Have any tips or info to add? Spot any mistakes? We’d love to hear about it.