Chora Museum

Guided Tours Istanbul

Guided Tours Istanbul – is it a church, a mosque or a museum?!

Both Chora and Hagia Sophia are part of guided tours Istanbul and even sightseeing tour Turkey. As there has always been a comparison between Chora Church and Hagia Sophia, though much smaller in size, just like it, Chora might as well have suffered the crisis of identity.

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The church’s full name was the Church of the Holy Saviour in the Country. Originally, it was a part of a monastery complex outside the walls of Constantinople, to the south of Golden Horn, in the early 5th century. Chora is the Greek word for ‘countryside’. Where the church once was, was the country area out of the 4th century city walls of Constantine the Great. Later in the 5th century Theodosius II built his famous double line walls for the defense of the city. Thus, the church became incorporated within these city defenses and practically Chora Church was no longer in the countryside. However, the name Chora stayed.

The last seige

Then, in 1453 during the last siege of Constantinople Chora was in a very dangerous position due to its proximity to the western walls. These were the weakest point of the Byzantine defence. There was a desperate try to help the city with the icon of Theotokos Hodegetria. It was brought to Constantinople. The icon is a depiction of Virgin Mary, or the protector of the city. Nevertheless, storm took the city. Around 50 years after the fall of the city, the Grand Vezier of the Sultan converts Chora Church into a mosque. Thus, Chora goes through another part of its life – as a mosque, for four centuries. At that time, the Ottomans didn’t alter the church too much. They changed the grand dome as it had fallen during an earthquake. The frescoes, though, suffered a lot. They were covered by dirt, paint and plaster.

The size doesn’t matter with Chora museum and guided tours Istanbul know why

People mostly praise Chora for its mosaics and frescoes. They illustrate the lives of Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. Also Christ’s ancestry and even the Judgement Day. It’s interesting to see that the faces are not the typical crude ones. They are more humanistic. They show sadness, suffering and serenity. There is a very goos painting which depicts the last three days of Christ in Hell, before the Resurrection. The very respected scholar John Freely has given Chora second place after only Haghia Sophia.(Aya Sofia is part of guided tours ıstanbul). Though, in painting, Chora Church outdoes Haghia Sophia because the frescoes are much more. Another thing that distinguishes the church from other similar places is its size. It is definitely not as big as other Byzantine churches of Istanbul. The beautifully decorated arched ceilings are not high above one’s head and one can easily ‘reach up and touch them’.

That makes Chora Church a cozy and intimate place for its visitors on their guided tours Istanbul. It is considered to be a masterpiece of Byzantine art. The man principally responsible for Chora Museum’s breathtaking frescoes (which also include the life story of Virgin Marry) is Theodore Metochites. He is a Byzantine statesman, but also a poet, scholar, scientist and patron of the arts. He is the one who enlarged and made the impressive decoration of the church between 1315 and 1321.

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Different disasters and guided tours Istanbul

However, these wonderful pristine examples of Byzantine art were covered up with plaster after the church turned into a mosque. Chora also suffered from many disasters – both human and natural. At various times, earthquakes have damaged the foundations, walls and roof of the church. This required frequent renovation. The first major recorded renovation occurred in the late 12th century.

Today’s Chora Church

After the Latin Occupation an earthquake caused a partial collapse of the foundations. Then fires have ravaged the church as well. Maria Doukaina built the building that visitors can see today in guided tours Istanbul. She was the mother-in-law of Emperor Alexius I Comnenus. People used Chora Museum for important religious celebrations. Lots of repairs and restructuring were made in the following centuries. Virtually all of the interior decoration—the famous mosaics and the less renowned but equally striking mural paintings—dates from about 1320.

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Painstaking work of revealing

First, the Turkish government rediscovered and restored the Chora Church quite a lot in mid 19th century. Then in 1948, the Byzantine Institute of America began the painstaking work of revealing and restoring these hidden masterpieces. The result: The Chora Church, which had previously undergone a metamorphosis into the Kariye Camii; was reborn as the Chora Museum. It’s not normally among the other guided tours Istanbul sightseeings but you can always visit it, preferably with a guided tour.

So, I leave to you to find the answer of the question whether Chora is a church, a mosque or a museum. One thing is certain, though. It is among the top 30 must-see museums in the world (according to a recent article). What you can do is enjoy customized tours Istanbul and Guided Tours Istanbul, and find out about Chora!

Contact me to get more information about the tours.


The museum status of the Chora changed to Mosque with the order of the Turkish Government on 21 August 2020. It is not open for visitors due to a ground restoration.

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