Lonely Planet review
İstanbul has more than its fair share of Byzantine monuments, but few are as drop-dead gorgeous as the Chora Church. The fact that it's tucked away in the little-visited Western Districts of the city means that many visitors overlook it, but we counsel you not to do the same.
The church was originally known as the Church of the Holy Saviour Outside the Walls, but what you see today is not the first church-outside-the-walls on this site. This one was built in the late 11th century, and underwent repairs, restructuring and conversion to a mosque in the succeeding centuries. Virtually all of the interior decoration dates from 1312 and was funded by Theodore Metochites, a poet and man of letters who was auditor of the treasury under Emperor Andronikos II (r 1282–1328). One of the museum's most wonderful mosaics, found above the door to the nave in the inner narthex, depicts Theodore offering the church to Christ.
The mosaics, which depict the lives of Christ and Mary, are simply stunning. Look out for the Deesis (Christ in Majesty), which shows Christ and Mary with two donors: Prince Isaac Komnenos and Melane, daughter of Mikhael Palaiologos VIII. This is under the right dome in the inner narthex. On the dome itself is Genealogy of Christ, a wonderful depiction of Jesus and his ancestors. On the narthex's left dome is a serenely beautiful mosaic of Mary and the child Jesus surrounded by her ancestors.
In the nave are three mosaics: of Christ; of Mary and the child Jesus; and of the Dormition (Assumption) of the Blessed Virgin – turn around to see the latter as it's over the main door you just entered. The 'infant' being held by Jesus is actually Mary's soul.
To the right of the nave is the Parecclesion, a side chapel built to hold the tombs of the church's founder and his relatives, close friends and associates. It is decorated with frescoes depicting Old Testament scenes.
The Chora is one of the city's best museums and deserves an extended visit. On leaving, we highly recommend sampling the unusual Ottoman menu at the Asitane restaurant, which is in the basement of the next-door Kariye Oteli. Alternatively, a simple peynirli tost (toasted cheese sandwich) and glass of çay can be enjoyed at the Kariye Pembe Köşk in the plaza overlooking the museum.
You can see a smaller but similarly wonderful display of Byzantine mosaics at the nearby Church of Pammakaristos (Fethiye Camii & Müzesi, Church of the All-Praised Mother of God), built between 1292 and 1294.
The best way to get to this part of town is to catch the Golden Horn (Haliç) ferry from Eminönü to Ayvansaray and walk up the hill along Dervişzade Sokak and Şişhane Caddesi following the remnants of Theodosius II's land walls. From Şişhane Caddesi, veer left into Vaiz Sokak just before you reach the steep stairs leading up to the ramparts of the wall, then turn sharp left into Kariye Sokak and you'll come to the Chora Church.