email
The Silk Route - World Travel: Chora CHurch, Istanbul, Turkey
americas asia & far east africa & middle east europe

Turkey: Istanbul Churches of Hagia Sophia, Chora and Pammakaristos

October 2012

Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) Chora Church Pammakaristos Church
Theodore Metochites presents the newly rebuilt and decorated Chora Church to Christ

These three churches, dating from Byzantine times but variously restored and rebuilt since, are quite different in size and design, but all with wonderful mosaics: Hagia Sophia, Pammakaristos and Chora which is truly amazing with beautiful frescoes too.

Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)

istanbul
istanbul
istanbul
Upper level with mosaics

We visited Hagia Sophia as early as possible in the day because later on the queues are horrendous. However, this worked against us for photography as the sun was streaming in onto some of the mosaics making it very difficult!

There were two churches built and destroyed on this site before the current church. The first was probably built by Constantius II, son of Constantine the Great, in 360 A.D. The second by Theodosius II in 405 A.D. Some stone remains of the second church can still be seen in the grounds of Hagia Sophia today.

istanbul
Stone remains from the second church built by Theodosius II
istanbul

Originally this was an Orthodox church built between 532 and 537 by Emperor Justinian 1st. After the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the church was converted into a mosque, and a minaret added. Restoration of the then somewhat dilapidated building continued right up until the 19th century, when the appearance became much as we see it today. Ataturk declared it a museum in 1935.

istanbul
Empress Irene
istanbul
John II Comnenus, Virgin Mary and Christ, and the Empress Irene
istanbul
John II Comnenus
istanbul
Christ with Constantine IX Monomachus on his right and the Empress Zoe on his left.

istanbul
The levhas - large black discs with beautiful gold script - are the work of the master calligrapher Mustafa Izzet Efendi, inscribed with names: Allah, Mohammed, the first Kalifs and Imams.

istanbul
istanbul
istanbul

The enclosed raised pavilion is the Sultan's Loge, built by Ahmed III, so that he could come and go unobserved.



 

istanbul
An Archangel
istanbul
Empress Zoe
istanbul
istanbul

On the south west entrance there is a tenth century mosaic of the Virgin Mary holding the infant Christ flanked by the Emperors Constantine, presenting her with the city, and Jusitinian, presenting her with his church, which we didn't get a photograph of - maybe next time!

Inside, the enormous domed space is impressive. The celebrated mosaics can be seen on the upper level - I particularly like the emperors and empresses. The Comnenus with Empress Irene) and Empress Zoe mosaics are either side of a large window at the south east of the upper level. Zoe, who reigned from 1028 to her death in 1050, is notorious for having married three times, changing the mosaic portrait of her husband each time. 




istanbul
istanbul
Ninth century mosaics of Saint-Bishops
istanbul




istanbul
Christ with the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist
istanbul
istanbul
istanbul
Not the greatest photographs but these are two seraphim - angels with six wings - high up on arches (areas known as pendentives) just below the upper level. Their faces were covered over in accordance with Islamic beliefs when the building became a mosque. The angel face on the left was only uncovered in 2009.
istanbul
The Minbar (pulpit)

 

 

 

The interior must have been absolutely dazzling when it was first completed.

 

Chora Church

istanbul chora church

Our hotel organised a taxi to take us to the Chora Church which is otherwise difficult to get to. Chora means "outside the city".

In the sixth century there was a large monastery here which went through a period of decline until the eleventh century when the ruined monastery church was rebuilt. The outside is not particularly special; the very large buttress on it south side is no doubt in place to stop it collapsing down the hill but it is very ugly.

However, the church was restored in the fourteenth century by Theodore Metochites, a minister of the emperor's treasury, with the addition of stunning frescoes and mosaics.



istanbul chora church
Paracclesion: Saint-Bishops below Christ raising Adam and Eve.

The church was later converted into a mosque at which time its bell tower was replaced by a minaret, as was usual in these conversions. The beautiful frescoes and mosaics were partly covered over with plaster in the seventeenth or eighteenth century but it seems that those in the dome were visible in the late nineteenth century. Lower down the mosaics were covered by wooden doors which the custodian would open for a small fee. In 1945 the church became a museum and the mosaics and frescoes were cleaned and revealed in all their glory.

In plan it consists fundamentally of the main church or naos, orientated east-west, a side chapel on its south side called a paracclesion, an inner narthex and an outer narthex - a narthex is an entrance area on the west side of a church, opposite the altar.

Paracclesion

istanbul chora church
Looking north into the Paracclesion.
istanbul chora church
The Last Judgement

The paracclesion is decorated with frescoes dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and, because this was the funeral chapel of Theodore Metochites, themes of resurrection and salvation.

istanbul chora church
The Virgin and Child painted dome.
istanbul chora church
The Anastasis or Resurrection: Christ raises Adam and Eve.

Naos

istanbul chora church
istanbul chora church
The mihrab and marble walls.

The domed naos has marble walls and floors. In the apse at the eastern end there stands a mihrab from the time when the building was a mosque. The mihrab is a niche which indicates the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca and hence the direction in which Muslims must pray.

istanbul chora church

Very little remains of the mosaics which once decorated the naos, only the Koimesis (death of the Virgin) and figures of Christ and the Virgin.

istanbul chora church
The Koimesis


istanbul chora church

The Inner Narthex

istanbul chora church
North dome with mosaic of the Virgin and Child

The inner narthex has two domes and is decorated with a wonderful series of mosaics depicting Christ and the life of the Virgin.

istanbul chora church
South dome with Christ Pantocrator (all powerful).
istanbul chora church
Barrel vaulting.
istanbul chora church
North end of the barrel vaulting.
istanbul chora church
istanbul chora church
Theodore Metochites presents the newly rebuilt and decorated church to Christ.
istanbul chora church
South entrance.
istanbul chora church
The way that the fingers of the right hand are held represent the letters IC XC which was Greek shorthand for the name of Jesus Christ - the letters also appear above Christ in this mosaic.
istanbul chora church
Kneeling patron, detail from mosaic of Mary with Christ.
istanbul chora church
Mary with Christ and a kneeling patron.
istanbul chora church
Christ healing the leper.
istanbul chora church
Part of the Annunciation to St Anne, mother of the Virgin; the house detail is lovely - a pillared portico at the top of the steps leads to a doorway with a curtain across the opening, the chimney even appears to have a nest with a bird on it - though I may be being a little fanciful here!

Outer Narthex


istanbul chora church


istanbul chora church
The slaughter of the innocents.
istanbul chora church
Elizabeth hides her son, the infant John the Baptist.

The same long narrow shape as the inner narthex, here there are mosaics of the life of Christ.

istanbul chora church
istanbul chora church
istanbul chora church
The journey to Bethlehem.
istanbul chora church
The Magi with Herod, following the star to Bethlehem.
istanbul chora church
istanbul chora church
The miracle at Cana: Christ turning water into wine; on the right the celebrated image of Christ Pantocrator above the entrance to the inner narthex.

 

Pammakaristos Church

Pammakaristos Church
Pammakaristos Church
Pammakaristos Church
Pammakaristos Church
Pammakaristos Church
Pammakaristos Church
Fresco of the Three Wise Men.

After the glories of Chora we walked down the hill to the little church of Pammakaristos. Built in the thirteenth century it too has some beautiful mosaics and scraps of fresco. The interior is lovely - quite simple and very irregular. We were quite alone here - Chora had been quite crowded - and it was very peaceful and pleasant to have this lovely little church to ourselves.

The church is dedicated to the Virgin 'Pammakaristos' - 'the most blessed'. It was built by Michael Glabas Tarchainotes, nephew of the Emperor Michael VIII Palaeologos between the years 1292-1294. He is buried in the paracclesion of the church which was built in his memory in 1315.

After the Ottoman conquest the church became a nunnery, from 1455 to 1587 it was the seat of the Orthodox Church, later converted to a mosque known as Fethiye.

Afterwards we walked down to the ferry station to get the boat back to the city - as recommended by guides and our hotel - but discovered it was closed and had to resort to a taxi.

Pammakaristos Church

Pammakaristos Church
Pammakaristos Church
Pammakaristos Church
Mosaic on the dome of Christ Pantocrator surrounded by the prophets.
Pammakaristos Church
Pammakaristos Church
The Baptism of Christ
Pammakaristos Church
Pammakaristos Church
Pammakaristos Church