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Chora Church

Kariye Mosque
Greek: Μονή της Χώρας
Turkish: Kariye Camii
Exterior rear view
AffiliationGreek Orthodox Church (before 1500),
Sunni Islam (1500–1945, 2020–present), Directorate of Religious Affairs of Turkey (1924–1945, 2020–present)
StatusMosque (since 2020)
LocationIstanbul, Turkey
Chora Church is located in Istanbul Fatih
Chora Church
Location within the Fatih district of Istanbul
Geographic coordinates41°01′52″N 28°56′21″E / 41.03122°N 28.93903°E / 41.03122; 28.93903
StyleByzantine architecture, Ottoman architecture, Islamic
Front view of Kariye Mosque

The Chora Church or Kariye Mosque (Turkish: Kariye Camii) is a former church, now converted to a mosque (for the second time), in the Edirnekapı neighborhood of Fatih district, Istanbul, Turkey. It is mainly famous for its outstanding Late Byzantine mosaics and frescos.

The building is an example of Byzantine architecture. In the 16th century, during the Ottoman era, it was converted into a mosque; it became a museum in 1945, and was turned back into a mosque in 2020 by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.[1][2] The interior of the building is covered with some of the finest surviving Byzantine Christian mosaics and frescoes, which were left in plain sight during Muslim worship throughout much of the Ottoman era.[3] They were restored after the building was secularized and turned into a museum.

The neighborhood is situated in the western part of the municipality of Fatih district.

Depiction of the Chora Church/Mosque, c. 1900
Chora Church/Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey, 1903 survey. Brooklyn Museum Archives, W. H. Goodyear Collection


Sections and ground plan

First phase (4th century)

The Chora Church was originally built in the early 4th century as part of a monastery complex outside the city walls of Constantinople erected by Constantine the Great, to the south of the Golden Horn. However, when Theodosius II built his formidable land walls in 413–414, the church became incorporated within the city's defences, but retained the name Chora (for the presumed symbolism of the name see below).

Second phase (11th century)

The majority of the fabric of the current building dates from 1077–1081, when Maria Doukaina, the mother-in-law of Alexius I Comnenus, rebuilt the Chora Church as an inscribed cross or quincunx: a popular architectural style of the time. Early in the 12th century, the church suffered a partial collapse, perhaps due to an earthquake.

Third phase: new decoration (14th century)

The church was rebuilt by Isaac Comnenus, Alexius's third son. However, it was only after the third phase of building, two centuries after, that the church as it stands today was completed. The powerful Byzantine statesman Theodore Metochites endowed the church with many of its fine mosaics and frescoes. Theodore's impressive decoration of the interior was carried out between circa 1310 and 1317.[4] The mosaic-work is the finest example of the Palaeologian Renaissance. The artists remain unknown. A renowned classical scholar as well as statesman, Theodore donated his personal library to the Chora monastery, too.[5] In 1328, Theodore was sent into exile by the usurper Andronicus III Palaeologus. However, he was allowed to return to the city two years later, and lived out the last two years of his life as a monk in his Chora Church.

Until the Conquest of Constantinople

In the late 13th and early 14th centuries, the monastery was home to the scholar Maximus Planudes, who was responsible for the restoration and reintroduction of Ptolemy's Geography to the Byzantines and, ultimately, to Renaissance Italy. During the last siege of Constantinople in 1453, the Icon of the Theotokos Hodegetria, considered the protector of the City, was brought to Chora in order to assist the defenders against the assault of the Ottomans.[6]

Kariye Mosque (c. 1500–1945)

Around fifty years after the fall of the city to the Ottomans, Hadım Ali Pasha, the Grand Vizier of Sultan Bayezid II, ordered the Chora Church to be converted into a mosqueKariye Camii. The word Kariye derived from the Greek name Chora.[7] Due to the prohibition against iconic images in Islam, the mosaics and frescoes were covered behind a layer of plaster. This and frequent earthquakes in the region have taken their toll on the artwork.

Museum, art restoration (1945–2020)

In 1945, the building was designated a museum by the Turkish government.[8] In 1948, the American scholars Thomas Whittemore and Paul A. Underwood, from the Byzantine Institute of America and the Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies, sponsored a restoration program. From that time on, the building ceased to be a functioning mosque. In 1958, it was opened to the public as a museum, Kariye Müzesi.

Reconversion to a mosque (2020–2024)

In 2005, the Association of Permanent Foundations and Service to Historical Artifacts and Environment filed a lawsuit to challenge the status of the Chora Church as a museum.[9] In November 2019, the Turkish Council of State, Turkey's highest administrative court, ordered that it was to be reconverted to a mosque.[8] In August 2020, its status changed to a mosque.[10]

The move to convert Chora Church into a mosque was condemned by the Greek Foreign Ministry and by Greek Orthodox and Protestant Christians.[1] This caused a sharp rebuke by Turkey.[11]

On Friday 30 October 2020, Muslim prayers were held for the first time after 72 years.[12]

The building was opened for Muslim worship on 6 May 2024.[13]


The Chora Church is not as large as some of the other surviving Byzantine churches of Istanbul (it covers 742.5 m²) but it is unique among them, because of its almost completely still extant internal decoration. The building is divided into three main areas: the entrance hall or narthex, the main body of the church or naos (nave), and the side chapel or parecclesion. The building has six domes: two above the esonarthex, one above the parecclesion and three above the naos.

Mosaic of the enrollment for taxation before Governor Quirinius
Mosaic of the journey to Bethlehem
The mosaic in the lunette over the doorway to the esonarthex portrays Christ as “The Land of the Living”.
Mosaic of Christ enthroned with Theodore Metochites presenting a model of his church


The main, west door of the Chora Church opens into the narthex. It divides north–south into the outer, or exonarthex and the inner, or esonarthex.


Mosaic of Saint Peter

The exonarthex (or outer narthex) is the first part of the church that one enters. It is a transverse corridor, 4 m wide and 23 m long, which is partially open on its eastern length into the parallel esonarthex. The southern end of the exonarthex opens out through the esonarthex forming a western antechamber to the parecclesion. The mosaics that decorate the exonarthex include:

  1. Joseph's dream and the journey to Bethlehem
  2. The enrollment for taxation
  3. The Nativity
  4. The journey of the Magi
  5. The inquiry of King Herod;
  6. The flight into Egypt
  7. Two frescoes of the massacres ordered by King Herod
  8. Mothers mourning their children
  9. The flight of Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist
  10. Joseph dreaming, and the return of the Holy Family from Egypt to Nazareth
  11. Christ taken to Jerusalem for the Passover
  12. John the Baptist bearing witness to Christ
  13. A miracle
  14. Three more miracles
  15. The Virgin and angels praying. This image faces the Christ Pantokrator lunette (#16 in this list), and Mary is labelled in Greek, “Mother of God, container (chora) of the uncontainable (achoritou).” This phrase both refers to the theological paradox of Christ's dual nature, as well as the name of the monastery, the Chora.[5]
  16. Christ Pantokrator (or "Almighty," this image is in the lunette over the doorway to the inner narthex, and depicts Christ blessing the viewer with his right hand, and holding a jeweled Gospel in his left.) The label plays on the monastery's name, the Chora, in its reference to Christ as the "land of the living."[5] This phrase comes from Psalm 116:9, used in the Orthodox funeral service, also significant because of the addition of the funerary spaces under Metochites, who anticipated burial in this monastery.[5]


Mosaic of the Virgin and Child, north dome of the inner narthex
Mosaic of Christ Pantocrator, south dome of the inner narthex

The esonarthex (or inner narthex) is similar to the exonarthex, running parallel to it. Like the exonarthex, the esonarthex is 4 m wide, but it is slightly shorter, 18 m long. Its central, eastern door opens into the naos, while another door at the southern end of the esonarthex opens into the rectangular antechamber of the parecclesion. At its northern end, a door from the esonarthex leads into a broad west–east corridor that runs along the northern side of the naos and into the prothesis. The esonarthex has two "pumpkin" domes. The smaller is above the entrance to the northern corridor; the larger is midway between the entrances into the naos and the pareclession, and they continue the emphasis on imagery of the Virgin and Christ seen elsewhere in these mosaics.[5]

  1. Enthroned Christ with Theodore Metochites presenting a model of his church. This image depicts Theodore in the traditional visual formula indicating that he is the donor, for this fourteenth-century leader was responsible for renovating the twelfth-century church as well as adding the parecclesion.[5]
  2. Saint Peter
  3. Saint Paul
  4. A monumentally scaled mosaic of the Deesis: Christ and the Virgin Mary (without John the Baptist) with two earlier donors below, Isaac Komnenos and a nun labeled “Melanie, the Lady of the Mongols,” who may be the daughter of emperor Michael VIII (reigned 1261–82).[5] The subject matter and large scale probably alludes to a similar scene in the south gallery of the Hagia Sophia, installed soon after the Latin occupation of Constantinople (1204–61) ended.[5]
  5. The genealogy of Christ
  6. Religious and noble ancestors of Christ

The mosaics in the first three bays of the inner narthex give an account of the life of the Virgin, and those of her parents. Some of them are as follows:

  1. The rejection of Joachim's offerings
  2. The annunciation to Saint Anne: the angel of the Lord announcing to Anne that her prayer for a child has been heard
  3. The meeting of Joachim and Anne
  4. The birth of the Virgin
  5. The first seven steps of the Virgin
  6. The Virgin given affection by her parents, this scene is more typical of the late Byzantine era, when artists were more inclined to explore emotional and/or everyday themes than artists in the early or middle Byzantine periods.[5]
  7. The Virgin blessed by the priests
  8. The presentation of the Virgin in the Temple
  9. The Virgin receiving bread from an Angel
  10. The Virgin receiving the skein of purple wool, as the priests decided to have the attendant maidens weave a veil for the Temple
  11. Zechariah praying; when it was time for the Virgin to marry, the High Priest Zechariah called all the widowers together and placed their rods on the altar, praying for a sign showing to whom she should be given
  12. The Virgin entrusted to Joseph;
  13. Joseph taking the Virgin to his house;
  14. The Annunciation to the Virgin at the well. This image, in which the young Mary awkwardly turns towards the approach of the archangel Gabriel, was adapted to triangular space in which it was depicted. There is a strong emphasis on images of Christ and Mary in the exonarthex and esonarthex.[5]
  15. Joseph leaving the Virgin; Joseph had to leave for six months on business and when he returned the Virgin was pregnant, arousing his suspicion.


The central doors of the esonarthex lead into the main body of the church, the naos. The largest dome in the church (7.7 m in diameter) is above the centre of the naos. Two smaller domes flank the modest apse: the northern dome is over the prothesis, which is linked by short passage to the bema; the southern dome is over the diaconicon, which is reached via the parecclesion. Only three mosaics survive in the Chora's naos:

  1. Koimesis (the Dormition of the Virgin; i.e. her last sleep before ascending to Heaven). Jesus is holding an infant, symbolic of Mary's soul.
  2. Jesus Christ
  3. Theotokos (the Virgin and Child), both the image of Christ (#2 in this list) and this mosaic of the Virgin originally were positioned as proskynetaria icons to flank the templon, the barrier which was in front of the sanctuary, though the templon no longer survives.[5]


View into the parecclesion

To the right of the esonarthex, doors open into the side chapel, or parecclesion. The parecclesion was used as a mortuary chapel for family burials and memorials. The second largest dome (4.5 m diameter) in the church graces the centre of the roof of the parecclesion. A small passageway links the parecclesion directly into the naos, and off this passage can be found a small oratory and a storeroom. The parecclesion is covered in frescoes that emphasize the theological message of salvation, in keeping with the space's use as a funerary chapel.[5] Within the Christian worldview, God raises the dead at the end of time, hence the significance of the Anastasis and Last Judgement scenes painted prominently on the ceiling. The image of the Anastasis is particularly renowned, appearing in many art history survey books as a key examplar of late Byzantine art.

  1. Anastasis (literally Resurrection)": the Harrowing of Hell. Christ, who has just broken down the gates of Hell, is standing in the centre and pulling Adam and Eve out of their tombs. Christ is adorned in vivid white garments as well as encircled by a radiant mandorla, setting him in contrast to the dark colors of the fresco's background. Behind Adam stand John the Baptist, David, and Solomon, and other righteous kings. Below is the bound personification of Hades, rendered as an African individual.
  2. The Last Judgment, or Second Coming. Christ is enthroned with the Virgin and John the Baptist on either side of him. (This trio is also called the Deesis.)
  3. Virgin and Child
  4. Heavenly court of angels
  5. Two panels of Moses

Along the walls of the Chora's parecclesion are arcosolia, arched recesses for tombs, likely intended for Theodore Metochites and his family. Also at this level are depictions of soldier saints, who wield swords as if protecting the tombs they accompany.[5]


The original, 4th-century monastery containing the church was outside Constantinople's city walls. Literally translated, the church's full name was the Church of the Holy Saviour in the Country (Greek: ἡ Ἐκκλησία τοῦ Ἁγίου Σωτῆρος ἐν τῇ Χώρᾳ, hē Ekklēsia tou Hagiou Sōtēros en tēi Chōrāi). It is therefore sometimes incorrectly referred to as "Saint Saviour". However, "The Church of the Holy Redeemer in the Fields" would be a more natural rendering of the name in English. The last part of the Greek name, Chora, referring to its location originally outside of the walls, became the shortened name of the church. The name must have carried symbolic meaning, as the mosaics in the narthex describe Christ as the Land of the Living (ἡ Χώρα τῶν ζώντων, hē Chōra tōn zōntōn) and Mary, the mother of Jesus, as the Container of the Uncontainable (ἡ Χώρα τοῦ Ἀχωρήτου, hē Chōra tou Achōrētou).

See also


  1. ^ a b Casper, Jayson (21 August 2020). "Turkey Turns Another Historic Church into a Mosque". Christianity Today. Retrieved 22 August 2020.
  2. ^ "Turkey converts Kariye Museum into mosque". Hürriyet Daily News. 21 August 2020. Retrieved 22 August 2020.
  3. ^ "Has Turkey halted plans to turn Chora museum into a mosque?". 11 January 2021.
  4. ^ K. Smyrlis, “Contextualizing Theodore Metochites and his refoundation of the Chora”, Revue des Etudes Byzantines 80 (2022), 69–111 doi: 10.2143/REB.80.0.3290897
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Freeman, Evan (2021). "Architecture in Focus: The Chora". A Smarthistory Guide to Byzantine Art. Smarthistory.
  6. ^ Van Millingen
  7. ^ "About Chora". choramuseum.
  8. ^ a b Yackley, Ayla (3 December 2019). "Court Ruling Converting Turkish Museum to Mosque Could Set Precedent for Hagia Sophia". The Art Newspaper. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  9. ^ Kokkinidis, Tassos (21 November 2019). "Turkey to Turn Historic Orthodox Church Into a Mosque; Is Hagia Sophia Next?". Greek Reporter. Retrieved 10 July 2020.
  10. ^ "Turkey converts Kariye Museum into mosque". Hürriyet Daily News website. 21 August 2020. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  11. ^ "Turkey slams Greece over statement on conversion of Kariye Museum to mosque". Hürriyet Daily News website. 22 August 2020. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
  12. ^ "Istanbul's Chora to open as mosque for Muslim prayers on Oct. 30". Ahval. 27 October 2020.
  13. ^ "Turkey formally opens another former Byzantine-era church as a mosque". AP News. 6 May 2024. Retrieved 6 May 2024.



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  • Edda Renker Weissenbacher. Kariye: The Chora Church, Step by Step. ASIN B000RBATF8
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Chora Church
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