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Kariye (Chora) Church has a long history dating back to the 6th century. It has reached today, thanks to the repairs it had undergone during the Ottoman period and in the second half of the 20th century. While previously the monastery complex contained around the church, these structures could not survive the past time and were destroyed.
It was first built as a monastery in 534 during the reign of Justinian I. by Aziz Teodius. In the 11th century, the mother-in-law of Alexios I was rebuilt by madam Maria Dukaina. It was devastated by the Latin invasion of 1204-1261. The monastery was repaired by Teodor Metokhites in the 14th century. External narthex and parecclesion were added to the structure in this period. (Metokhites built the Parekklesion for himself, and his grave is located at the entrance of the church with a marble stone.)
The importance of the building
Increased by moving the imperial palace and state administration center of the Byzantine Empire to the “Blackhernai Palace” located in a strategic location near the walls of the Golden Horn. It survived the great earthquake in 1296. The building was built in 1511, 58 years after Fatih Sultan Mehmet’s conquest of Istanbul. Atik Ali Pasha, one of the Grand Vizier of Bayezid, was transferred to the mosque and referred to as “Atik Ali Pasha Mosque” or “Kariye Mosque”. Mosaics and frescoes on the walls of this old church were covered with plaster during this transformation. But as a mosque, only the minaret in the corner and the altar in the southeast corner were added inside. Thus, it was tried to preserve the originality of the building.
Kariye Mosque was converted into a museum with the decision of the Council of Ministers on 29 August1945. In the United States, by the “Byzantine Institute of America” and “Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies for Byzantine Studies”, the Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies has been damaged and restored by earthquakes and mosaics. Sponsorship has been given to the works for the restoration of the building. These restoration works were initiated under the direction of Thomas Whittemore and Paul A. Underwood, members of the said American academic institutions. As a result of the studies carried out from 1948 to 1958, all mosaics and frescoes were revealed. The building, which was opened in 1956, continues to serve as a museum under the name of “Kariye Museum”.
Kariye Church is a typical Byzantine structure. It looks quite plain with brick walls from the outside. It is one of the most ornate churches inside. The “parekklesion”, a narrow and long single nave chapel, is on the southern front. The chapel was built on the basement. The top is partially covered with a dome and the other parts are covered with vaults. It has a single abscissa. The outer narthex extending across the entire western front forms today’s facade. The dome that covers the central space of the building has a high pulley and was repaired and made of wood during the Ottoman period. A plastic and movable appearance is provided on the exterior with round arches, half piers, niches and stone brick weave rows. The eastern front ends with outward apse. The middle apse is supported by a half arched “strut” on the outside. This buttress is a support element widely used in gothic architecture. It is intended to prevent the cross vaults from collapsing by pushing carrier supports such as columns and pillars under the influence of load. It is half arch shaped and provides external support.
“Naos”, which functions as the main place of worship, is located in the center of the building. It is covered with a dome that is crossed with naos pendants. The eastern extension of the naos is “bema” or holy place with “altar table”. There are “pastoforium” on both sides of Bema. The northern chapel, where the Thanksgiving is prepared, is called “prothesis” and the south chapel used as a dressing room is called “diakonikon”. Since the 14th century, “diakonikon” served as a private chapel.
The two-storey northern annex joins the naos. The transitional ground floor may have been used as a dressing room. The upper floor, which houses the monastery library and opens with a naosa window, is probably the founder’s workplace.
There are two large narthexes decorated with mosaics in the west. In its original plan, the outer “narthex”, where a bell tower is located in the southwestern corner, opens to the outside with its portico facade. Mosaics, marble coverings and reliefs can be seen in the narthex. The “parekklesion” burial chapel served as an additional chapel. Almost all the frescoes here have been preserved. Between “Parekklesion” and “naos” is the passage connecting the incomplete warehouse and possibly the private section used as the monk room. The special section opens to “naos” with a window.
Kariye mosaics and frescoes are the most beautiful examples of the last period of Byzantine painting (corresponding to the 14th century). The idea of depth, the movement and plastic values of the figures, the elongation in the figures are the features of this style. Important examples of the new awakening in Byzantine art, which runs parallel to the Italian Renaissance, are found in this church.
The scenes about the life of Jesus in the outer narthex and the life of Mary in the inner narthex are outstanding. These scenes follow a chronological order according to the events in the life of Mary and Jesus. According to the chronological order, the first mosaic in the interior narthex describes the sad Joachim (father of Mary), who has no children, on the mountain, and the last mosaic depicts the separation of Joseph and Mary. According to the chronological order, the first mosaic in the outer narthex is the mosaic depicting Yusuf’s dream.
There is a “Pantocrator Jesus” on the door that passes from the outer narthex to the inner narthex. (This description is one of the mold poses that expresses the glory of Jesus used in many orthodox churches. He is depicted with a beard, while holding a sign of consecration with his right hand, he holds the new testament in his left hand.)
The birth of Jesus on the left side, the census in front of the governor Quirinus, the fact that the angel appeared to Yusuf and took Mary and went away, the bread was reproduced, the water turned into wine; on the right, there are scenes such as the messenger kings reporting the birth of Jesus, the healing of the paralyzers, and the murder of children. The mosaics in the interior offer sections from the life of “Virgin Mary” and show the miracles of Jesus.
Mosaic descriptions on both the walls and the ceiling have survived to the present day with very little damage. In addition to the mosaics, there are also colorful and patterned marble ornaments.
The most beautiful and oldest mosaic is “deisis” when you go to the interior. In this mosaic, the right and left eyes of Jesus are depicted differently, as in the mosaic of deisis in Hagia Sophia. In the mosaic, there is Jesus in the middle, Mary on the left, Isaakios under Mary, Commenus and a nun on the right of Jesus. This woman is VIII. She is the daughter of Michael. She was married to the Mongolian Prince Abaka Han and returned to Istanbul after her husband’s death and became a nun. In this section, the ancestors of Jesus in the dome are shown in Jesus and slices. On the entrance door to the main nave, Jesus is shown in the middle, presenting the model of the Theodoros Metokhites church, which repairs the church on the left and decorates it with mosaics.
The life story of Mary, which is not included in the Bible, is taken from subjects based on apocrypts. The interior narthex contains scenes such as the birth of Mary, her first steps, the fact that Gabriel tells Mary that she will have a child, and the purchase of wool for the cover to be covered in the temple. In the main nave of the church, there is a mosaic depicting the death of Mary on the wall facing the abside, and on the side walls there is Mary and a saint mosaic carrying the child Jesus. All Parekklesion is decorated with frescoes. The “Landing to Hell”, the “resurrection” (anastasis) scene seen in the apse, is a real work of art that has survived with very little damage. The “final hearing” scene at the top of it is shown as a whole here. At the top of the ceiling, the universe is spirally depicted, resembling a snail’s throat. The niches on the right and left walls of the parecclesion are known to be graves. In the middle of the Parekklesion dome there is the depiction of Mary and Child Jesus, and 12 angels in their slices.