Everything about gorgeous Chora Museum in Istanbul

Just like Hagia Sophia, this church was converted into a mosque in the 16th century during the Ottoman Empire and is considered one of the finest Byzantine church but today, Chora stands as a monument-museum. I can understand why the moment i set my foot inside. Entrance fees is TL15.

To understand Chora better, we must go back to history.

This church stands as an outstanding edifice in the Byzantine art due to its architectural value as well as its mosaics and frescoes. Situated inside the walls of Constantinople in Edirnekapi district. The Chora Museum takes its name "chora", referring to its location originally outside of the walls, which means "countryside" in Old Greek. 

Its construction date is not known, however, here before ; there stood a chapel on this site outside the walls of the Age of Constantine 1 (324-337). The original church was built on this side along with a monastery by Emperor Justinian 1 (527-565). This church which was partially destroyed during the Iconoclasm, was repaired and restored in time. However, it was only after the Byzantine Dynasty that moved to the Blakherna Palace, where is near the land walls of Theodosius II (408-450), in Edirnrkapi district from the Great Palace and some religious ceremonies done in the Chora Church near the palace, that the church gained importance.

Therefore, Maria Ducenea, the mother-in-law of Alexius I Comnenos (1081-1118) rebuilt the church as its benefactor. During the Fourth Crusade , the church became dilapidated inside the besieged and destructed city. Moreover, it suffered a huge collapse due to its being neglected. However, it was only at the time of the Byzantine Emperor Andronicus II (1282-1328) ordered the church to be restored by the powerful statesman and artist, Theodore Metochites. During its restoration, the main hall which was built at the Age of Comnenos was left untouched. However, only a corridor added to the northern wing of the church, together with an outer narthex running along the western wing and a parecclesion is a narrow, long chapel with one nave next to the southern wing. In addition, the mosaics on the inner and outer narthexes and the frescoes on the parecclesion were endowed at the same time.

Around some time after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans in 1453, the Chora stood as a church building. Then in 1511, it was coverted into a mosque by Hadim Ali Pasha, the grand vizier of of Sultan Bayezid II (1481-1512). The mosaics and frescoes were left untouched, yet, only some parts were covered behind a layer of plaster and wooden panels. After 434 years, the Chora Mosque was converted into a museum in 1945. After a programme of restoration sponsored by the Byzantine Institute of America, under the supervision of P.Underwood between 1948-1958, the mosaics and frescoes were uncovered with necessary repairworks.

            The Importance Of The Mosaics And Frescoes Of Chora.

At the Late Byzantine Era, the empire became more powerless. Nevertheless, development in art and culture became important. Between 1261-1350, within a new concept called "Renaissance", some works of art were created. In Chora, it is possible to see the most beautiful and precious examples of mosaics and frescoes of the Late Byzantine Era.

Both the mosaics of the inner narthex about Mary's life and those of the outer narthex about Jesus's life and miracles are the most outstanding examples of this era and this church became so famous with it's mosaics and frescoes. Those that cover the walls, arches, and vaults are surprisingly vivid. The common monotonous background of the previous age is replaced by architectural motifs along with the Hellenistic aspects that make the life scene of Jesus and Mary more alive, humane and emotional.

Smoothly covered over the door of the main hall (naos), "the Dormition of the Virgin" (the Coimesis) is worth paying attention.It also deserves attention to look at "The Resurrection" (Anastasis) and "The Last Judgment" (the Deesis) frescoes in the parecclesion. The resurrection fresco bares a special value in the entire Middle Ages, with its glorious and vivid presentation. There is no doubt that it is a masterpiece of the Christian paintwork. Over the northern panel of the inner narthex, a presentation of the Virgin Mary can be seen. Over the northern panel of the outer narthex, there stands a presentation of Christ with the Holy Family and over the southern panels of both narthexes, the presentation of Christ's miracles can be seen. Unfortunately, those mosaics are largely destroyed. In these frescoes covering the parecclesion, all of "the Old Testament" presentations that are hugely important in Christianity were portrayed.

At the middle of the dome in the Parecclesion, the figures of Mary and the child Jesus are depicted in a medallion. The Child Jesus is shown in a pause of making the sign of blessing with his two hands . In the section of the dome, the attendant twelve angels are presented. On the southern wall of this domed area, the inscription of Michael Tornikes and his tomb inside a niche.

Four Gospel Hymnographers - At the pendantives of the dome, four gospel writer are depicted. They are St. John of Damascene (at the north-east pendative), St. Cosmos (at the south-east Pendantive), St. Joseph (at the south-west pendantive) and St. Theophanes (at the north-west pendantive). It is barely seen that all of them are clad in oriental costumes.

On the semi-dome of the apse in the parecclesion, this fresco stands. At the centre of the scene depicted,Jesus clad in a white robe within a frame omamented with stars, is seen pulling Adam and Eve out of their sarcophagi. On the right side, we see Cain and the honest people. The panel, towards the left, contains the portraits of John the Baptist, king-apostles and a group of the pious people.

Under the feet of jesus, stands the gates of Hell, torn into pieces, and we see the black guard of Hades, taken prisoner whose hands are cuffed.

Underneath the wall of the apse, six saints in ceremonial garments are depicted from the front and standing. The saint on the left is unknown. From the left to right, the other saints are as follows : St. Athanasius, St. Jogn of Chrysostom, St. Basel, Theologian St. Gregory and St. Crril of Alexandria.

The Last Judgment Scene -- In a vast vaulted dome in front of the arch of the apse, this scene is depicted. Just at the middle of the panel, the figure of Jesus surrounded by a halo is found, sitting on a throne. Mary on the left and John the Baptist on the right, are seen in a pause imploring Jesus for the intercession for the humanity.

On both sides, one can see the twelve apostles seated on benches and the archangels in the background. Underneath the figure of Jesus, stands an unoccupied throne, and Adam and Eve bowing down in reverence facing each other. Just below this, the scene depicting the discussion by the angels, "the sins of the souls". Just on the right side of the vault, we see figures of the sinners being led to Hell's fire, escorted by the Satan.

An Angel Carrying The (Symbolical) Heaven -- Above this scene, just in the middle of the vault, a flying angel is seen in a pause carrying a snail. representing "the Cosmos" and "the Paradise". This is the first time in the Byzantine pictorial art that a snail representing "the Paradise" is being depicted.

Abraham With Lazarus -- At the north-east pendantive of the vault, the fresco depicting Abraham sitting with the beggar Lazarus on his lap from the front comes into view. In the fresco, Abraham is surrounded by a group of children representing"souls".

And Angel And A Child -- At the north-west pendantive of the vault, the figure of a soul in the form of a child beside an angel is depicted.

The People On The Way To Heaven -- In this fresco on the arch, on the left, Peter supervising the entrance into Heaven being followed by groups of big crowds are seen. Furthermore, the Angel Seraphim with four wings and the semi-nude figure of the good thief are depicted. To the right, the depictions of Heaven and Mary surrounded by the attendant angels are shown. One can see the partially damaged figures in this fresco.

At the middle of the dome in the Parecclesion, the figures of Mary and the Child Jesus are depicted in a medallion. The Child Jesus is shown in a pause of making the sign of blessing with his two hands.

In the section of the dome, the attendant twelve angels are presented. On the southern wall of this domed area, the inscription of Michael Tornikes and his tomb inside a niche.

Rejection Of Joachim's Offerings - This mosaic portrays the Chief Priest Zacchariah enthroned rejecting the intended offering to the Temple by Joachim in order to have a child.

Joachim In The Desert - Joachim is yearning for having a child is shown sitting in the bushes, with a sign of grief and pain on his face. To the right side of it, there is a portrayal of two shepherds.

The Annunciation Scene - This mosaic depicts the Virgin receiving the news of her pregnancy from an angel. To the left, there stands a house. In front of the house, St. Anne is seen praying God by looking towards an angel descending from Heaven. To the right, a pool surrounded by trees can be seen.

The Meeting Of Joachim And Anne - On receiving the good news, St. Anne breaks it to Joachim. The mosaic portrays this happy meeting.

The Birth Of The Virgin Mary - In this mosaic, the Virgin is shown sitting in a bed by having her attendant maidens around. On the right to the bottom, they are seen preparing a bath for thr Virgin, while at the same time, a cradle for her. Finally, on the right side of the Virgin, Joachim is portrayed looking around by the door.

The First Seven Steps Of The Virgin - On the left, an attendant maiden is seen standing by holding the Child Mary who is taking her first steps. On the right, St. Anne and the Child Mary are portrayed embracing each other.

The Birth Of The Virgin Mary - In this mosaic, the Virgin is shown sitting in a bed by having her attendant maidens around. On the right to the bottom, they are seen preparing a bath for thr Virgin, while at the same time, a cradle for her. Finally, on the right side of the Virgin, Joachim is portrayed looking around by the door.
The First Seven Steps Of The Virgin - On the left, an attendant maiden is seen standing by holding the Child Mary who is taking her first steps. On the right, St. Anne and the Child Mary are portrayed embracing each other.
The Blessing Of The Virgin Mary - There stands a decorative medallion in the middle of the vault covering. On the southern side of the medallion, three priests are depicted together with Joachim, the father of the Child Mary on his lap who is presented to the Temple as to be blessed.

The Virgin Given Affection - On the eastern side of the vault, the Father Joachim sitting on the left beside the Mother Anne on the right with their baby, the Virgin Mary are shown in the portrayal.

Jesus Pantocrator - This portrait is situated over the doorway leading into the inner narthex. Jesus Christ is depicted with the Holy Book in his left hand, while making a sign of blessing with his right hand. Around the portrait, there is an inscription : "Jesus Christ and the Land of the Living".

The Presentation Of Mary To The Temple - In this mosaic, in front of Joachim and Anne, the Virgin is being presented to the Temple by High Priest Zacchariah. Behind this scene, the Virgin is shown seated in the cyborion by an angel. The attendant maidens are seen on the background.

The Feeding Of The virgin - The Virgin seated on a throne is seen receiving bread from angel. Before this scene, an attendant maiden is shown on the front. On the next side of the arch, there might stand a scene of the Virgin given directives at the Temple. Unfortunately, these mosaics are largely destroyed.

The Virgin Given To Joseph - The Virgin and Zaacchariah are depicted standing up in front of the cyborion. The Priest is shown giving the stick to Joseph. He is presented close to them, while his rivals are standing far behind the scene.

Joseph Bringing The Virgin Into His House - Joseph is seen taking the Virgin to his house who is given him by the Chief Priest Zacchariah. The child on the right is of Joseph's.

Mary is seen next to a well before a building, where she came to draw water. She appears wondered, because of Gabriel’s annunciation. According to the Gospel of Luke, Gabriel said to Mary, “You have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” “How will this be”, Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” The inscription on the scene reads, “Annunciation at the well”.

Mary and Joseph bidding farewell to each other; Joseph had to go away for six month for business, and when he returned back he founds Mary pregnant and was very angry.

The large mosaic panel on the wall of the first bay depicts three scenes: Joseph's dream, Mary with two companions and the Journey to Bethlehem. On the left of the panel Joseph is depicted as sleeping and in his dream an Angels informs him about the truth that the child was conceived from god almighty therefore he shouldn't divorce Mary. Next scene depicts the journey of Virgin and Joseph to Bethlehem for the enrolment of taxation.

Enrollment for Taxation before the Governor:In the depiction on the east lunette of the northern section, the census conducted upon the order of Emperor Augustus for collecting taxes in all Roman provinces. Since everyone had to register in the city where he/she was born, Joseph, a descendant of David, and his family went to Bethlehem for the census. Quirinius, the governor of Syria and Palestine is sitting on the throne, and there is a military guard next to him. In front of the governor, a Roman soldier who is in charge during the query and holding a sword, and a scribe who is recording, are enrolling the pregnant Virgin Mary. When the father of the child was asked, Virgin Mary remained silent, but Joseph behind her answered immediately and accepted him as a son by declaring himself his father. Behind him, his three sons are seen. The inscription reads, “... because he belonged to the house and line of David... he went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child”. The monogram above the head of Virgin Mary means ''Mother of God''

The Nativity ; The Inscription on the mosaic reads Nativity (birth of Jesus). On the bottom left of the scene two ladies seen as washing the newly born baby and next to them Joseph depicted as sited and watching the baby. On the right three shepherds are sited and an Angels is telling them to be joyful and happy for the baby. In the middle Mary depicted as lying tired after birth and next to her in the cradle baby Jesus depicted and he is warmed up by the breath of a cow and a donkey. there is a beam of light reaching from the sky onto jesus. Behind Mary some Angels are depicted.

The Three Magi With King Herod - On the right side of this mosaic, King Herod is shown while sitting on his throne with a guard standing behind him on the left side, the three Magi with their horses are standing. The Magi informed King Herod that, a child has born and he will lead the Israel nation in the middle of this mosaic.

The Order For The Massacre - Some Magi inform the King that this child is in Bethlehem. He gives orders that all children below 2 years of age in Bethlehem and its vicinity be killed. On the left side, King Herod is sitting on a throne with two guards and three soldiers

On the other side of the mosaic, the execution of this order is seen. As soon as the Holy Family have an information about the execution, they must flee to Egypt to save Jesus. There is no mosaic about this scene in Chora. If it was depicted before, it would be destroyed like the others.

The Massacre Of The Children - This mosaic is particularly deteriorated. It is depicted that the innocent children are taken from their mothers by soldiers and they are being executed.

In the scene on the west arch of the first section of the southern wing of the outer narthex, Saint Elizabeth takes shelter in a cave in a mountain together with her son John the Baptist, and a soldier on the left side is pursuing them with a drawn sword. Elizabeth and her son miraculously escaped the massacre, thanks to a rock closing the entrance to the cave. The inscription on the mosaic scene reads, “Flight of Elizabeth”.

The return from Egypt (second bay, outer narthex);
 Being informed by an angel in his dream, Joseph flees to Egypt with Mary and jesus to escape from the massacres. The mosaic depiction on the wall tells us the story of return. On the left Joseph is depicted sleeping and an angel is whispering him that King Herod is dead. After getting the good news Joseph decides to return back to Nazareth. In the middle Virgin, Joseph and Jesus on the shoulders of Joseph are depicted. On the right the town of Nazareth is seen.
 After Herod died, Joseph saw one of God’s angels in a dream.  ‘Get up’, said the angel. ‘The people who wanted to kill the child are dead. Take the child and his mother. You can return with them to Israel.’
So Joseph got up. He took the child and the child’s mother and they travelled to Israel. v22 But then, Joseph heard that Archelaus, Herod’s son, was now king of Judea. So Joseph was afraid to go to Judea. Joseph had another dream. An angel explained to him what to do. ‘Go to Galilee instead’, he said.  Joseph made his home in a town called Nazareth. So what the prophets had said became true. ‘He will be called a person from Nazareth.’

Christ taken to Jerusalem for the Passover:
In the scene on the last arch on the western wall of the outer narthex, the holy family is every year traditionally going to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover in order to fulfill their religious duties. In this scene, Jesus was twelve years old and when the family recognized during their return from Jerusalem that he was missing, John and Virgin Mary returns to Jerusalem and look for him for three days. They find him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. In the scene, Virgin Mary is at the back, the two sons of John and Christ in front of her, and John in the forefront. The city of Jerusalem is depicted on the right side of John.
This scene is interesting as the last scene in the Chora where the young Christ is without a beard. The inscription on the scene reads, “And every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover”.
Inside the medallions on the arch, some saints such as Anempodistus, Elpidephoros, Aphthonios, Akindynos and Pegasios are depicted. Since these mosaic panels were made by different artists, some of them are not of great artistic value. The monogram seen above the head of Virgin Mary means “Mother of God” and the one above Christ’s head means “Jesus Christ”.

The Temptations of Christ by Satan (second bay, on the vault inner narthex)
This large mosaic depiction bears several  scenes. On one corner the baptizing of jesus by John in the river of Jordan can be seen. jesus stays in the desert for forty nights fasting and after that he is tried the Holy Spirit. Satan tries to deceive Jesus with three attempts. 1) Satan asks Jesus to turn the stones into bread and Jesus replies; "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that come out of the mouth of God.
2) Satan takes Jesus to Jerusalem and puts him on the tower of a temple and asks him to jump down as he is the son of God his angels will carry him on the hands. Jesus replies: " It is written that you should not try your Lord."

3) Upon these answers Satan takes Jesus to the summit of a mountain and promises him the kingdoms of the world. Jesus replies: " get out of my way Satan, it is written that you only worship thy god and be his creatures.’’ Upon these answers Satan goes away.

The Young Jesus - These mosaics are largely deteriorated. The younghood period of Jesus is depicted in here. Jesus is in the Temple with doctors is the theme of these mosaics.

John The Baptist, Jesus And Satan - There is a medallion in the middle on the norther side of the dome, John the Baptist shows Jesus to the people behind him on the shores of the River Jordan. On the southern side of it, one can see Satan is various positions.

St. Andronicus or St. Trachos - I'm not sure this is St. Andronicus (Eastern side of the arch) or St. Trachos (western side of the arch). This mosaic depicted he is standing and holding a cross in his hand. There are several panels of the Saint's portraits in the inner and outer narthexes.


The Healing Of A Blind And Dumb Man - On the south-west side of the dome, one can see this panel. It is depicted in this mosaic that, the Apostle Peter is standing near Jesus, while Jesus is healing a blind and dumb man.

The Healing Of Two Blind Men - On the north-west side of the dome, Jesus and St. Peter near him are seen. The scene of the healing of the two blind men on the tree by Jesus is depicted in this mosaic.

The Healing Of The Mother-In-Law Of St. Peter - On the northern-east side of the dome, the scene of the mother-in-law of St. Peter is sitting on the bed and holding his arm with the healing of her by Jesus is depicted.

The Healing Of A Paralyzed Person And The Samaritan Woman - These mosaics are also largely deteriorated. There is a medallion with some decorations in the middle of the vault. It is seen that , a paralyzed person Capernaum is healed by Jesus. The Apostle Peter is standing near Jesus, while four people are standing near the paralyzed man. At the north-west corner of the vault, Jesus and the Samaritan woman are depicted.

The Miracles In The Wedding At Cana - All the mosaics in the middle of the dome are deteriorated. The miracles of Jesus Christ are depicted in these mosaics.

The Healing Of The Leprous Man - On the western side of the arch, a leprous man healed by Jesus is seen.

The Woman Asking For A Restoration Of Her Health - On the south-east side of the dome, there is the scene of a woman, bleeding for years and healed immediately after touching Jesus's garments.

The Dispersion Of Good Health To The People - In this scene, the healing of the sick people with various diseases is seen. In the panel of mosaics, Jesus is standing before the apostles and a group of people.

The Zaccharian In Front Of The Twelve Sticks - This mosaic portrays the scene of the Virgin's choice for the one to marry. She is depicted sitting in front of the twelve sticks inside the cyborion. The Chief Priest Zacchariah is seen praying on his knees (which was not shown in this picture). The Virgin chooses the one whose stick is with young shoots.


Jesus And His Ancestors - In the centre of the dome at the northern end of the inner narthex, Jesus Pantocrator is portrayed in a medallion. Around the medallion, the figures of religious and noble ancestors of Jesus can be seen downwards in two sequences of the domes. Upwards, the figures of twenty-four of the early ancestors of Jesus Christ from Adam to Jacob are seen. These are given in the following : Adam, Seth, Noah, Cainan, Maleleel, Jared, Lamech, Sam, Heber, Saruch, Nachor, Thara, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Phalec, Ragau, Manthusala, Enoch, Enos and Abel.

Upwards, the figures of twenty-four of the early ancestors of Jesus Christ from Adam to Jacob are seen. These are given in the following : Adam, Seth, Noah, Cainan, Maleleel, Jared, Lamech, Sam, Heber, Saruch, Nachor, Thara, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Phalec, Ragau, Manthusala, Enoch, Enos and Abel.

As for downwards, the figures of twelve sons of Jacobs, two of Judah and only one of Pharez can also be seen in the following as : Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Isaachar, Dam, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, Benjamin, Pharez, Zarah and Esrom.

The Khalke Jesus - Inside an arch, on the right side, Jesus is portrayed from the front and standing. To the left side of the Virgin, Prince Isaacios Comnenos is shown praying, while on the right side of Jesus, Priestess Melane is shown praying. She is the daughter of Michael VIII Palaiologos (1259-1282), whose original name is "Maria" before becoming a nun.


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