Chora Church - Kariye Museum
Chora Church dates back to the early fifth century AD and is one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture. It was built just outside of Constantinople's original walls, but was brought inside the city's defenses when Emperor Theodosius II built a new wall. The church was rebuilt between 1077 and 1081, and again renovated after an earthquake in the twelfth century. Most of the interior dates from that time. In the early 1500s, the church was converted into a mosque. It remained a mosque until 1948, when work began to restore the frescoes and mosaics that had been plastered over upon its conversion. Today Chora Church is open to the public as a museum.
The church is significantly smaller than many of Istanbul's religous sites. But what it lacks in size in makes up for in its stunning interior. Seemingly every surface is covered in mosaics and frescoes. The subjects of the panels fall into one of four themes: the life of Jesus, the life of Mary, scenes from the infancy of Christ, and stories of Chrit's ministry.
The entranceway (or 'narthex') alone has more than thirty mosaics. The church also has eight domes. Each feature stunning mosaics with religious portraits. The side chapel (or 'parecclesion') is decorated by frescoes. The most spectacular is the Anastais, which shows Jesus busting people out of hell.
Chora Church, also known as the Kariye Museum, can be a bit tricky to reach. Your best bet is a taxi. It's definitely worth it though. The frescoes and mosaics are truly a sight to behold. It's also much less crowded than Istanbul's other great attractions. The museum has lots of information on the church and the Byzantine era. Nearby are remains of Istanbul's old walls. From the top the view is spectacular.
Location: Camii Sok., Kariye Meydani, Edirnekapi
Hours: Open Thursday through Tuesday 09:00-19:00 (17:00 in the winter)