Take a walk between concrete piles, after passing Istanbul walls just be disappeared a little bit. Follow that way and there will rise a dome between Ottoman houses, which have a friend, it is a minaret.
Chora is a church dating back to the 6th century. Documents show that it was built at first to be a monastery in 534, I. Justinian’s era by Saint Theodius in East Rome. Some parts were destroyed or damaged in times and in the 11th century it was built again. The Church was ruined during Latin Invasion between 1204–1261. Chora was restored by Theodore Metochites in the 14th century, information also tells that Metochites’s grave is inside this Church. The Church survived a big earthquake in 1296.
The Church was turned into a mosque after Istanbul’s conquest by the Ottomans in 1511. Chora was restored by the architect Atik Ali Pasha and all originality was preserved. Architects touched church with all precision and tried to protect all mosaics. What we are seeing right now in the museum, is showing us that these touches were successful. Chora was closed in the 20th century and the works on restoring the church started between 1948 – 1958. The Byzantine Institute of America supported these works and Chora was reopened as a museum.
– Who is Metochites?
Theodore Metochites is being mentioned in Archaeologist Ilhan Aksit’s book and his story starts with Empress Theodora. Theodora wanted to make a church in holy soils of Chora (where there used to be saints’ and disciples’ graves). Metochites’ art and mosaics are famous and what we are seeing today is all by him. He gained power very fast and affected the Empire Andronikos I Komnenos. He wrote a 120 pages essay about philosophy, history and politics. He blames Aristotle and Plato for their ‘utopian’ ideas.
His dream was to make Chora a strong monastery. He worked for this and what he earned helped church, and he was successful. He was interested in Chora and the church was adorned with amazing mosaics and frescoes, the church had fascinating silks of those times. He donated some of his property and found a library in the church. There was a science center near the place of worship. He was also a prime minister in the Byzantine Empire.
All this created an action against him by dark hands of the Byzantinians. Rumors and claims made him guilty and enemy for people, his house was burned during that period and he was exiled to Didymoteicho. He continued his life in poverty for two years and never gave up of Chora. Metochites returned to Constantinople but on one condition; he had to live like in jail in Chora. His life ended there in his dream but with tragedy. Documents tell that he died on March 13, 1332 and was buried inside the church. Today when you walk into Chora, his life is hitting your face with all sadness.
– Architecture and Metochites’s dream
Chora Church has a typical Byzantine architecture. You can see simple bricks when you look from outside and you are just thinking there is only a place like other but it has more. First step after entering the door, a little corridor and Jesus mosaic with Bible welcome you. Not only this, you are being amazed with other mosaics and that golden color. After entering the second door (which has Jesus mosaic) Metochites’s dream is starting.
These mosaics are telling about Metochites’s life and every piece is a light from that era. When you look up you will see the scenes part by part and these corridors end with the belts. There is a hall in the back side of these belts and you can see there a ‘mihrap’ marble from Ottoman architecture, which is the only one thing from the Ottoman Empire in Chora.
There is one more door following this hall and this door will take you to Marry and angels. This part is small and has only lighs from little dome between angels. Some doors are closed in Chora, except this mosaic’s story which will take you to Chora. That place which doesn’t have concrete piles, but it has Empress Theodora’s prayers and they are holy soils for her.
– Two names, one city
The heart of two civilizations: Constantinople of the Byzantine Empire and Istanbul of the Ottoman Empire. Those soils have these two civilizations’ marks, they are still living between the walls of Chora.
There is a mosque in Istanbul that used to be a church, this mosque is still active. The mosque is called ‘Little Hagia Sophia’, under Blue Mosque. But real Little Hagia Sophia is Chora for me with its fascinating story.
This is Chora, half church and half mosque. Saints’ grave and Theodora’s prayer but Metochites’s dream. If you visit Istanbul, go to Chora and listen this story from those mosaics.
Author: Ismail Okan Ukav