Istanbul’s Stunning Chora Museum

The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora or The Chora Museum (Kariye Museum) as it is also known, is famous for its stunning 14th century frescoes and mosaics that adorn its walls and ceilings. It’s a museum you should not miss when you’re next in Istanbul!

The ancient Greek word Chora (Kamiye in Turkish) means outside the city. When it was first built in the 5th century, the original church was outside the city walls hence the name. It was destroyed in an earthquake and completely rebuilt in the 11th century. In the 16th century it was converted to a mosque, the Kariye Camii and in 1948 became a museum. If this sounds familiar, you are right…the Aya Sofia has a similar history!

It’s certainly worth the twenty minute taxi ride from Sultanahmet to Edirnekapi. You can also catch the 31E, 36K or 38E bus from Eminönü, as we did, and get off at Edirnekapi stop. From here it is a five minute walk to the museum past old wooden houses that once were part of this important area of the city.

Chora Museum_-27

Chora Museum_-28


As you wander around the back of the building to the entrance, you can see the additions each era has made to the building, including the minaret that replaced the original belfry.

Chora Museum, Istanbul

Chora Museum, Istanbul


The mosaics and frescoes date from 1312 when Theodire Metochites, who was the auditor of the treasury under Emperor Andronikos II in the late 13th, early 14th century, funded the work.

Thankfully, when the church was converted to a mosque, they were covered up and left untouched until 1948 when the Byzantine Institute of America began restoration. The Chora Church, which became the Kariye Camii finally became the Chora (or Kariye) Museum.


The mosaics
The mosaics tell the life of Christ and Mary. There is a particular order to seeing the mosaics so an audio cassette is an ideal way to see them properly. However it really doesn’t matter…their artistic splendour is easy to appreciate without it.

Mosaics in the Chora Museum, Istanbul



Mosaics in the Chora Museum, Istanbul



Mosaics in the Chora Museum, Istanbul


Mosaics in the Chora Museum, Istanbul


Mosaics in the Chora Museum, Istanbul


Mosaic of Christ Pantocrator in the Chora Museum

Mosaic of Christ Pantocrator


Mosaic of the Deesis in the Chora Museum

Mosaic of the Deesis


The outer passages  lead to the nave of the church, where marble lines the walls and large windows allow light to flood the room.

 Chora Museum, Istanbul



Mosaics in the nave of the Chora Museum

Mosaics in the nave of the Chora Museum


To the right of the nave is a small side chapel, the Parecclesion, that was built to hold the tombs of the church’s founder and his relatives. It is decorated with stunning frescoes depicting scenes from the Old Testament.

Chora Museum, Istanbul


Chora Museum, Istanbul


Chora Museum, istanbul

What ever you do, don’t miss this beautiful little museum that holds some of the best Byzantine art that Istanbul has to offer!


Know before you go!

Chora Museum
Kariye Camii Sok., Kariye Meydani,

Open from 9am- 7pm in Summer and 9am – 5pm in Winter. Closed Wednesdays
An entrance fee of 15TL is payable. If you have an Istanbul Museum, it pass can be used here. 

How to get there:
1.31E, 36K or 38E bus from Eminönü getting off at the Edirnekapi stop, followed by a five minute walk
2.Ferry from Eminönü to Ayvansaray and walk up the hill.



This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox. Don’t forget to pop over and see the other contributions.


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54 Responses to Istanbul’s Stunning Chora Museum

  1. Muza-chan January 23, 2014 at 3:23 pm #

    Great photos 🙂

    • Jenny Freedman January 24, 2014 at 10:30 pm #

      Thanks Lili. It’s a beautiful place to visit!

  2. Johanna January 23, 2014 at 5:32 pm #

    What some fantastic architecture photos. I love the mosaics. I’m loving the history and being taken back in time to another more stately age, but most of all I’m loving being introduced to places that I know so little about. Keep them coming 🙂

    • Jenny Freedman January 24, 2014 at 9:59 pm #

      Istanbul has so much history Jo, and a lot of it, such as this museum in perfect condition. The mosaics here are very impressive. I hope you visit Istanbul one day…you’d love it Jo!

  3. Jess @UsedYorkCity January 23, 2014 at 6:55 pm #

    Ahh, what a gorgeous place to visit! It seems very serene and calming, probably a great place to unwind after a lot of sightseeing and touring!

    • Jenny Freedman January 24, 2014 at 10:04 pm #

      It was quite calm the day we visited Jess though if there are quite a few cruise liners in port, the important sites in Istanbul can be anything but calm! Chora museum is definitely one you should not miss!

  4. Ana January 23, 2014 at 7:16 pm #

    Noted for my next trip to Istanbul!
    Starting to run out of helva and pul biber…. 😉

    • Jenny Freedman January 24, 2014 at 10:02 pm #

      I know the feeling Ana…I need a few more goodies too! This is one you should not miss on your next visit!

  5. Hakan January 24, 2014 at 12:56 am #

    Great photos! this is one of the under-rated places to visit in Istanbul. As your pictures show the mosaics are well preserved but it seems because it’s slightly off the tourist track it doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

    • Jenny Freedman January 24, 2014 at 10:07 pm #

      Thanks Haken. It is definitely not as well known as a lot of the other historical sites in Istanbul though I do think this is changing. It’s sad if people miss seeing these unbelievable mosaics and frescoes. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. noel morata January 24, 2014 at 2:12 am #

    Wow, that is impressive…wish i had time to visit this when I was in Istanbul…there’s just too many things to see in that amazing city!

    • Jenny Freedman January 24, 2014 at 10:09 pm #

      I think one of the biggest mistakes people make when they plan a visit to Istanbul is that they don’t allow themselves enough time to see everything! I hope you get to return one day Noel so you can see one of the best sights in The city!

  7. budget jan January 24, 2014 at 7:15 am #

    What memories Jenny. The sky was beautiful the day of your photos. I love the houses in that area and the church had so much to see in such a small area. We loved walking through the nearby streets. Love Istanbul 🙂

    • Jenny Freedman January 24, 2014 at 10:10 pm #

      I’m glad you were able to make it here Jan. It really is one of the highlights of Istanbul isn’t it!

      • budget jan January 25, 2014 at 11:35 am #

        Nice and close to the wall as well 🙂

  8. cindy January 24, 2014 at 9:00 am #

    Such a lovely place – was it really as peaceful as it looks in your photos? When we were there it was so crowded you could hardly move – good thing the mosaics and paintings are all up high! You’re right, it really is a beautiful place and should be on everyone’s itinerary when they go to Istanbul.

    • Jenny Freedman January 24, 2014 at 10:13 pm #

      It wasn’t bad the day we visited Cindy. I wonder if there were a few cruise ships in the day you went…that certainly makes a difference to sightseeing in Istanbul! So true Cindy…at least everyone can see the mosaics though the neck does get a bit sore after a while!

  9. Mike January 24, 2014 at 9:21 am #

    I became fascinated with Istanbul after watching a cooking travel show. Those osaics are stunningly beautiful! Good post 🙂

    • Jenny Freedman January 24, 2014 at 10:14 pm #

      Was it Ottolenghi’s show Mike? The fabulous food is definitely one reason to travel to Istanbul but the fabulous history and museums are another!

  10. Margaret | Destination Here&Now January 24, 2014 at 11:37 am #

    You’re so right Jenny. It’s definitely worth the effort to find this little church/mosque. The neighbourhood has stuck in my memory too. It was nice to see it again here. The city’s walls nearby gave you a real sense of just how large the walled city must have been its day.

    • Jenny Freedman January 24, 2014 at 10:20 pm #

      I’m glad you made the journey to see the museum Margaret.The streets around there are interesting to wander through aren’t they. It’s also great to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and be rewarded with such amazing mosaics and frescoes.

  11. Debra Kolkka January 24, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    This looks stunning and a lot like the mosaics in Ravenna, Italy. I think I need to go back to Istanbul.

    • Jenny Freedman January 24, 2014 at 10:22 pm #

      A trup back to Istanbul is always a great idea Debra. It’s one of my favourite cities…we are planning another visit this year! You’ll love the mosaics!

  12. Sophie January 24, 2014 at 8:21 pm #

    Actually love the look of that hilly street with the quirky wooden houses. Would have liked to stroll about there. And have a look at the Chora museum, too, of course 🙂

    • Jenny Freedman January 24, 2014 at 10:26 pm #

      The streets around the museum are interesting Sophie. The slave market was once in this area and a lot of wealthy locals built many beautiful mosques were here too. The remains of the old city walls are nearby too! It’s a perfect area to explore and, of course, visit the Museum as well!

  13. Leigh January 25, 2014 at 6:18 am #

    I’ve never heard of this museum but what a treasure. Is the gold in some of the mosaics gold leaf??

    • Jenny Freedman January 25, 2014 at 11:34 am #

      It really is a treasure Leigh and unfortunately a lot of people miss it! Yes, the mosaics are gold leaf.

  14. Mary {The World Is A Book} January 25, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    Wow! I love these types of museums and those frescoes and mosaics are amazing. I’ve never hear of this as an Istanbul attraction but what a gem and all those treasures inside. What a great place to visit. I really need to make it to Istanbul soon.

    • Jenny Freedman January 27, 2014 at 3:37 pm #

      It really is a stunning museum Mary and one that’s definitely worth seeing when you get to Istanbul. I’m surprised that it’s not as well known as the other museums in Istanbul.

  15. Michele {Malaysian Meanders} January 25, 2014 at 3:16 pm #

    These frescoes and mosaics. are so beautiful. I wonder if keeping them covered up for so many centuries when this building was a mosque ultimately helped preserve them or if the covering up process caused some degradation. I think it’s fascinating that towns will repurpose a building like the Chora church and the Aya Sofia depending on the needs of the people.

    • Jenny Freedman January 27, 2014 at 3:42 pm #

      I’m not sure what would have happened if they hadn’t been covered up Michele! I’d hate to think that we night have lost them. I agree, I think it’s interesting that both buildings later became mosques instead of new ones being built. Fascinating history!

  16. Neva Fels January 26, 2014 at 5:41 am #

    Istanbul is an area that I know very little about and you’ve given me a yearning to go there too. Those mosaics are amazing and I’m glad you bent your head back to give me the pictures. Any soreness in the neck was greatly appreciated from your amazing pics.

    • Jenny Freedman January 27, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

      It’s a fabulous city Neva..I’m sure you’d love it! Taking the pictures was definitely worth the sore neck!!

  17. [email protected] January 27, 2014 at 1:07 am #

    Hi Jenny, it has been a long time since I visited Istanbul. I actually almost forget about Chora Museum until I started reading this post. Thanks for bringing back the grandeur of this place into my memory. I remembered being in awe of the magnificent frescoes and was thankful that they inadvertently preserved it by covering it with white plaster. You photos captured the details and the magnificence of the frescoes.

    • Jenny Freedman January 27, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

      We first visited the Chora Museum a few years ago but it had started to fade from our memory, so we made a decision to revisit this museum and a few other places we had not been to for a long while! I’m glad we did! I’m pleased that I could remind you about it…it really is quite beautiful!

  18. Cathy Sweeney January 27, 2014 at 4:58 am #

    Gorgeous interior. I love the interesting story of the church’s transformations over time. I don’t cease to be amazed to be standing in places with such ancient history. Such a contrast between the wooden houses (which almost look like they could be in an old section of San Francisco!) and the mosaics of the museum.

    • Jenny Freedman January 27, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

      Originally the church was in the countryside but obviously during the Ottoman period these houses were built…maybe around the time the slave market started in the area! If only the walls of these old wooden houses could talk!

  19. Lizzie @Wanderarti January 27, 2014 at 8:12 pm #

    Great photos! It looks like such an interesting place… One I’ll definitely have to check out next time I’m in Istanbul.

    • Jenny Freedman January 28, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

      It’s certainly one that shouldn’t be missed Lizzie! Thanks you for stopping by and commenting.

  20. Shereen January 28, 2014 at 2:19 am #

    The mosaics look gorgeous. I’m planning a trip to Istanbul in the summer and look forward to adding the Chora Museum to our places to see. What are some other hidden treasures I should check out?

    • Jenny Freedman January 28, 2014 at 6:25 pm #

      Hi Shereen. Yes do add this to your list! I love the Rüstem Pasha Mosque which I wrote about on the blog. I’m also writing a guide which is coming out in the next couple of weeks.

  21. Krista January 28, 2014 at 2:42 pm #

    I love these photos so much, Jenny. What a beautiful place. I really enjoyed the neighborhood shots too. That sky is so blue! 🙂

    • Jenny Freedman January 28, 2014 at 6:27 pm #

      Thanks Krista. I probably should have taken more shots of the area. It really is lovely and very different to being in the heart of the city.

  22. Turkey's For Life January 30, 2014 at 12:41 am #

    We visited here a couple of years back and yes, we loved it, too. The mosaics are fabulous. We took the tram but wouldn’t do it that way again. It was a bit of a trudge around the ring roads to get there from the tram stop. 🙂

    • Jenny Freedman January 30, 2014 at 4:52 pm #

      I hear what you’re saying about the tram Julia. Crossing the main road didn’t worry us…maybe we we went at a quieter time of the day! I still think it’s an easier way to get there than walking up the hill from the ferry! Which ever way you go, it’s certainly worth the trip!

  23. Carolyn @ Holidays to Europe January 31, 2014 at 1:41 pm #

    The mosaics are stunning – what a blessing they have been so well preserved all these centuries. Is the church over-run with tourists or is it more of a hidden secret?

    • Jenny Freedman February 1, 2014 at 3:04 pm #

      On the day we were there it was not very busy Carolyn but I’m sure that, had there been a cruise ship in, it might have been a another story! Having said that it is still a bit of a hidden secret as it is off the well trodden tourist path!

  24. Maria X. Marquez February 7, 2014 at 10:22 am #

    The mosaics are stunning. This is a very small museum and will take about 40 minutes to look around. The mosaics are in very good condition and well worth the visit. if the weather is lovely you may spend an hour or so in the outside cafe across the small road as this is a most relaxing place. The surroundding areas look very pretty indeed. If you choose to get a taxi back downtown beware..there are two or three taxis outside that wait for the unsuspecting tourist and offer a flat rate (no meter) and in our experience this is usually more than twice the metered fare. If your stuck then take it but if not..walk up the road and flag down a taxi that will charge less. Well worth the visit though!

    • Jenny Freedman February 11, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

      Thank you for your comment Maria. Your tips in regards to the taxi is great. We’re great walkers so we’ve never tried to get a taxi but I’m sure some of my readers will be grateful for this for when they visit.

  25. Victoria McKeown July 31, 2014 at 2:13 am #

    You can also get here by tram. Take the tram line from sultanahmet to Tokapi and then change to the T4 line to Edirnekapi. The second part will take you along the walls which is interesting to see. Once you get off use a app like Ulmons City Map 2 go which works without data roaming to navigate – it’s across a few roads and then down the hill. Only 5 mins or so. You can also walk another 10 mins after Chora and get to Fetiye Church/Mosque which has mosaics in the museum mosque part and a working mosque next door to. Small but still interesting and the building itself is attractive from the outside. Then you can walk down towards the golden horn/halic through the Balat/Fener streets that was once the old jewish quarter and has many old and interesting buildings, steep streets and plenty of street life. It’s now becoming something of a fashionable area and you will find a few interesting furniture/antique/craft shops in this area. Also right next to the water is the St Stephens Bulgarian church which is totally made of metal. Annoyingly though its being repaired at the moment and you can access it.

    • Jenny Freedman August 3, 2014 at 11:55 pm #

      Thanks Victoria for adding this information for the readers. I was wanting to take the ferry and then walk up the hill but coming down from Chora sounds so much easier. It sounds an interesting area with lots to see

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