“ Address: Kariye Camii Sok / Kariye Meydani / Edirnekapi / Istanbul / Tel: 0212 631 9241 „
St. Savior in Chora museum can be found in the Edirnekapi area of Istanbul.
Originally a wooden structure was built in the 5th C as a small chapel but that burnt down as was quite common in those ancient times due to the use of candles and oil lamps to provide light inside the chapel. Eventually they built the current stone structure in the 11th century just outside the city walls of Istanbul or Constantinople as it was known then, as part of a monastery complex. The inside of the church was very ornately decorated with mosaics and frescos in the 14th century whilst it was still being used as a church.
Once the Ottomans invaded and took over the city it was turned into a Mosque and all the murals were covered over in plaster which thankfully preserved most of them. The church inside became very plain looking being plastered with a number of Islamic words from the Koran written over the plaster. The church of St. Savior in Chora (In Chora meant in the country), became the Kariye Camii. Camii means mosque. The marvellous and beautiful mosaics were uncovered in the 19th century but were covered over again in plaster on the orders of the government.
They were finally uncovered by an American team of archaeologists during the 2nd World War and the government of the day ordered that the Mosque be turned into a museum in 1947.
The church Museum is mentioned in the fantastic book by Patricia Schultz as one of the 1000 places to see before you die. I am so glad that I followed her advice and visited this museum as it is absolutely superb and stunning.
The front of the church opens out into a large square surrounded by a cafe and some stalls selling Turkish arts and crafts. The entrance is down the left hand side of the church and costs approximately £5 to enter. There are toilet facilities here and it is a good opportunity to make use of them whilst you are here. At the rear of the church are some beautiful rose gardens. They are well maintained and look very peaceful. There was a distinct lack of graves in the graveyard. There are some stunning views across the valley towards the Golden Horn. Be warned though that this is a very hilly area of Istanbul and there are some very steep roads around the area.
The building is largely made out of stone and is built in the style of the Aya Sofia. It looks like typical Greek architecture with flying buttresses supporting the dome. The stonework is particularly interesting and you can see the arches outlined by the bricks and mortar on the outside of the church.
You enter the museum from the right hand side having walked completely around the outside of the building where you can admire the architecture. The best part is once you have entered are the walls and ceilings which are completely covered with mosaics depicting scenes from the New Testament. There are mosaics displayed in chronological order from scenes from the bible from the visitation of the Angel Gabrielle, the census, the birth of Christ, the visit of the Magi and other saints. All of the frescos of mosaics depict scenes of Angels the Saints and are absolutely stunning to look at.
As it is a museum it is possible to take photos inside as long as no flash photography is used. They are lit up to show their full beauty. Near the front of the prayer hall and off to the side is a small domed room where the priests would gather and the church plate would be stored. There are virtually no frescos or murals on the walls inside this small room but the stonework is stripped right back to the bare stone. This is still interesting because you can admire that the way the building was created the brick work mortar and how the structure supports itself.
After leaving the central prayer area you are in a long corridor which is literally covered from the floor to the ceiling in murals and mosaics it is quite stunning and very decorative. The middle room is very large but there are only a few murals inside this room and the walls covered by symmetrical marble in tablets.
Leaving the middle corridor you come into another corridor area and at one end there is a book shop selling books and postcards of the different mosaics. It is quite echoing in this corridor especially if there is a tour group here which can be off putting having someone bellowing out in Italian pointing out the interesting parts of the mosaics.
To exit this hallway brings you out into the square where you can either sit on the steps opposite the church or take a drink in one of the cafes.
If you are in Istanbul I think it would be a very good idea to spend an hour here it really is well worth it as the mosaics are very well preserved thankfully. Whilst it is a brilliant structure it is very ornate inside although from the outside it does not look that impressive certainly not as impressive from the outside as the Aya Sofia but inside the mosaics are probably far better than any others I saw in Turkey.
It is well worth a visit and certainly a bargain at the mere £5 entrance fee. I thoroughly recommend a visit here. This place should definitely be on your to visit list in Istanbul.