Kariye Museum – Istanbul, Turkey

A Curiously Neglected Treasure

A visit to this little-known mosque-turned-museum leaves visitors floored. It occupies what was originally the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora (“the country”), an out-of-the-way location on Istanbul’s western edge. It was first erected in the 5th century, then rebuilt numerous times.

Much of the present-day structure and magnificent interior decora­tion was completed in 1321 by Theodore Metochites, the prime minister and leader of the artistic and intellectual renaissance that trans­formed late Byzantium. The Kariye Museum houses dazzling 14th-century mosaics and fres­coes depicting biblical scenes from Adam to the life of Christ, as well as some of the most impor­tant and extensive Byzantine paintings in the world.

Nevertheless, visitors often have the place to themselves, adding to the atmosphere of awe. Collect your thoughts afterward at the gar­den terrace, where tea is offered. A number of historic Ottoman houses nearby form an evoca­tive pocket of Old Stamboul in the shadow of the city’s 5th-century walls (built less than 100 years after Constantine), which are several stories high, with walls up to 20 feet thick in spots.

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