Istanbul: Kariye Museum – Don’t Miss It!

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.

Kariye Museum, Istanbul

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 (Chora) Museum In Istanbul

Kariye Müzesi – Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora

With 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 Interior, Istanbul

Chora Museum interior

As 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 Kariye Müze, Istanbul

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 Kariye Museum, Istanbul

Mosaics and frescoes in the Chora Museum

Before 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 Kariye Museum, Istanbul

Mosaics and frescoes in the Chora Museum

In 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 Chora Museum, Istanbul

Mosaics and frescoes in the Chora Museum

As 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, Istanbul: Useful Info

  • 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!
  • Istanbul’s UNESCO World Heritage status is due to buildings such as Kariye Müzesi.

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Comments

  1. Kaya Koyu Walker says:

    Ahhhhhhhh,,,,,,,,I’ve been there, but didn’t recognise the name. My first trip to Istanbul in 2001 was a long-weekend tour and this was one of the places we visited.

  2. @ Kaya Koyu Walker: The frescoes and mosaics are beautiful aren’t they? We couldn’t believe how may there were. So colourful.

  3. I had forgotten all about this fabulous museum with it’s stunning frescoes and mosaics. I’d like to see it again but next time I would take your advice and explore the streets around it- maybe even try to find your kofte place!

  4. @ [email protected]: I think we’ll probably go again in a few years like we did this time with Aya Sofya.The Balat area is supposed to be really interesting so we’d love to explore there. Our köfte place was fab. 🙂

  5. Oooooooo! I’m sooooooo jealous. This was on my list of Istanbul sights to see, but we simply ran out of time and energy. I hear the mosaics are second to none, including Ravenna. Glad you made it. And happy to see the great photos. I’ll just have to save it for my second trip to Istanbul.

  6. On the list for our next trip…

  7. @ Mark: Well, at least there’s still something on your list to see. We’ve been trying to get here for a long time and it’s taken till now. The photos do it no justice. It’s a tiny place but the frescoes and mosaics are the best we’ve ever seen. Amazing – without using that word lightly. 🙂

    @ Jack Scott: You’ll love it. Beautiful. 🙂

  8. Gorgeous, Julia. Lucky you for living in beautiful Turkey.

  9. @ Nisrine: Yeah, the frescoes are so vivid and yes, Turkey is beautiful. 🙂

  10. This looks beautiful, can you believe it I’ve been to Istanbul a million times and have not visited here yet. Love to see those gorgeous Icon’s and Frescoes as they are from my religion….this summer is a must when I go there.

    thank you for your nice comment…..about squash. My Mother in Law (RIP) use to make this sweet dish. Wish I watched her make it.

    Have a nice day… :-)))

  11. It does look like a mini version – I’m glad you found it! Looks like it’s worth the hunt!

  12. @ Erica (Irene): It’s definitely worth it. If you;re really interested in the story of the frescoes, I’d definitely read up on it all first.

    @ Belinda: Definitely worth the hunt. More to explore round there next time we’re in Istanbul, too. 🙂

  13. I could look at that dome and see something new every time. Great shot!

  14. @ Corinne: There was another similar dome but because flash wasn’t allowed, I was struggling to get my shots in focus (shaky hand!) and it was blurred, unfortunately.

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