For art lovers and history buffs, Istanbul represents a seemingly endless wealth of discoveries. While the list of must-sees is long, there are a few gorgeous spots off the beaten track that are well worth the visit.
An Overlooked Gem: the Kariye Museum
The Chora Museum, often referred to by its Turkish name, Kariye Müzesi, is one of the lesser known but most interesting spots in Istanbul. The magnificent Chora Museum is to be found an old Byzantine church, situated just inside the city walls at Edirnekapı. Its collection of beautiful frescoes and mosaics is unparalleled in Turkey, and some would claim the world – a remarkable distinction given the country’s amazing wealth of cultural and artistic history. An artistic and historical treasure trove off the routine tourist path, the Kariye Museum is well worth a visit if you enjoy art history or simply appreciate gazing upon beautiful objects.
The mosaics and frescoes in the Chora are among the most beautiful examples dating from the last period of Byzantine painting (14th century), featuring the characteristic stylistic elements such as visual depth, natural movements and figural elongations that defined the advancement of Byzantine visual art.
Trace Istanbul History through a Museum Visit
The Kariye Museum, like many of Istanbul’s remarkable architectural gems, parallels the country’s fascinating history as a crossroads of east and west. Indeed, the Turkish word Kariye is derived from the Ancient Greek word χορα (chora), meaning “outside of the city lands”. Historical documents indicate that a chapel existed on this spot outside of the city even by the 5th century, when Byzantium’s city fortification walls were erected. The first Chora Church was rebuilt by Roman Emperor Justinian (527-565) on the spot where the chapel stood. It then served as the court chapel for important religious ceremonies. However, the church was destroyed several centuries later, during the Latin Invasion of Constantinople by the Crusaders (1204-1261), and repaired during the reign of Andronikos II (1282-1328). It was expanded towards north, and an exonarthex was added to its western side along with a parecclesiastic chapel on its southern side. This was then decorated with its famously intricate mosaics and elaborate frescoes.
The structure continued to serve as a church following the conquest of Istanbul in 1453 by the Ottoman Turks. Shortly thereafter, in 1511 as the Ottoman Empire was increasing in strength and breadth, Vizier Hadim Ali Pasha had the building converted into a mosque. Following Turkish independence, it was converted into a museum in 1945, and during the 1948-1959 restoration carried out by the Byzantine Institute of America, the mosaics and frescoes were uncovered and put on display again.
Comfortable and Affordable Hotel near Kariye Museum
If you are visiting Istanbul, the Hotel Büyük Keban is right in the midst of it all the city has to offer: cuisine, architecture, music, history, cinema, fashion, and culture. Located in the heart of European Istanbul near the Kariye Museum, Hotel Büyük Keban is a three-star hotel offering four-star amenities and hospitality. We encourage you to see all we have to offer – contact us today to book your stay in unforgettable Istanbul!