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.