After having our fill of some of the tastiest köfte we've ever had, we felt warmed inside and confident that we couldn't be too far away from the the special building we were searching for: The Kariye Müzesi (Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora).
Istanbul is packed with unexpected pockets of interest and excitement that treat explorers of the city and, after waiting a while to cross the busy road at Edirnekapı, we took a right...and walked straight into another world, into a quaint, cobbled area; Kariye.
Quaint, cobbled streets and garden at Kariye Museum
Chora (Kariye in Turkish) means 'countryside' and Kariye has most definitely clung on to remain a more tranquil area of Istanbul. Pastel-coloured wooden houses line the road that leads to the Kariye Museum and it's not difficult to get a picture of the rolling green hills that must have surrounded this building in times gone by.
Kariye Müzesi - Church of the Holy Saviour in ChoraWith its familiar Byzantine architectural additions, Kariye Museum resembles a miniature version of the imposing Aya Sofya. But while Aya Sofya takes your breath away and amazes with its sheer size, Kariye Museum more than holds its own with its interior treasures.
Kariye Museum is famous for its mesmerising frescoes and mosaics telling the story of the life of Christ. Lets' take a look inside...
Chora Museum interiorAs you can probably guess from the tale of the journey we made to get here, Kariye Museum is not packed with the thousands of tourists that crowd into the area of Sultanahmet. It's low-key, cosy and you feel as though you are in a small country church. Prepare yourself for an aching neck however because you're going to spend your time in this building looking up.
Painted dome in Chora Museum
Intricately painted, vivid in colour and covering every inch of the ceiling and higher sections of the walls, the frescoes and mosaics are stunningly beautiful and largely intact; more so than any we have seen elsewhere in Turkey.
Mosaics and frescoes in the Chora MuseumBefore entering the museum, it's possible to buy an audio guide which you can listen to as you follow, in order, the images that display the story of the life of Christ. We didn't take this option, preferring to just stand in awe.
Mosaics and frescoes in the Chora MuseumIn Istanbul and in Cappadocia, we have toured and admired sites that have left us with a feeling of wondering what they must have looked like when their frescoes were first painted and mosaics first created. Kariye Museum takes away the need for you to stretch your imagination.
Mosaics and frescoes in the Chora MuseumAs far as we're concerned, this little building of huge significance, nestled (almost hidden) in its pretty setting is a definite must-see if you are in Istanbul.
Kariye Museum: Useful Information
- Entrance to Kariye Museum is 15 TL. The museum is closed on Wednesdays. Holders of the Istanbul Museum Card can use it to enter this museum.
- It's worth reading up on Kariye Museum before you go. We read information in our guidebooks and also found this really useful, dedicated blog: choramuseum.com
- Photographers take note: Set your camera accordingly - no flash OR tripods allowed.
- Getting there: we took the tram from Sultanahmet to Topkapı (this is also the stop for the 1453 Museum) and followed the city walls to Edirnekapı (about 20-30 minute walk). Buses from Eminönü head that way. Get off at the Edirnekapı bus stop.
- This area of Istanbul is worth a good chunk of your time. We had planned to get the ferry from Eminönü to Balat so we could explore the streets before heading up to Kariye Museum. Alas, the bad weather forced us to change our plans.
- And if none of that sounds appealing (it's hilly) you can always make life easier for yourself and take a taxi!