Chora Mosque is located in the Edirnekapı district of Istanbul. This building's history, which attracts many local and foreign tourists, dates back to 1700 years ago. So what exactly is the Chora Mosque, and what is it used for?
Chora Mosque is actually a church building belonging to a large monastery complex. Chora means a rural area, outside of the city, an empty area in Ancient Greek. There are many reasons for this name. One of them is that it is located in a rural area. This word has passed into Turkish as Chora. Since we will go back to 1700 years ago and talk about Chora's history, we will call it "Chora Church" for a while.
Some ancient sources are stating that the area where the Chora Church is located is important for early Christian history. According to Simeon Metaphrates, who lived in the 10th century, the graves of Saint Babylas and his 84 students, who were martyred in the great massacre in Iznik in 298 during the reign of Emperor Diocletian, were transferred to the area where Chora is today at the beginning of the 4th century. After that, this area where Chora is located has been accepted as a sacred area. A chapel was built in this area in the 4th century, but it was demolished after a short while.
Emperor Justinian had a monastery built-in 536 to replace this chapel, which was in ruins, and constantly renovated it until Chora was built. The current building was built in the 14th century by Theodoros Metokhites, who was the palace and treasurer of the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos II.
Architectural Features of Chora Mosque
Chora Church consists of 3 main areas. Outer Narthex, Inner Narthex, and Naos (sanctuary). Besides, an additional chapel, namely Parekklesion, has been added to the church's west side for burial niches.
One of the main reasons why there are narthexes and naos plans, especially in old churches, is the practical use of these areas, ceremonies, and rituals. It is also similar to using the 3 main areas (courtyard, sacred, and most sacred area) of the Temple of Solomon. While people were present for prayers, sacrifices, and other rituals called the courtyard in the Temple of Jerusalem; priests prepared these rituals in the holy area. The high priest could enter the holiest area only once a year.
The Outer Narthex allows believers who come to the church to think about their identity and the identity of God and why they are there before entering Naos, the place where they will meet God. The Inner Narthex is where the priests make preparations and enter the Naos with a cross before the worship begins.
There are four domes in the building, one in the Naos, two in the Inner Narthex, and one in the Parekklesion.
The church's inner and outer narthexes are decorated with magnificent mosaics. There are three important mosaic panels in the Naos, the main prayer area of the Church. In the additional chapel called Parekklesion, there are extraordinary frescos. The fact that the church is so full of artworks turns the building into an art gallery.
As I have just mentioned, the Naos are the main places of worship in churches. In the Naos section of Chora, 3 mosaic panels have survived to the present day. When you go to the Naos, the mosaic you see on the right is the mosaic depicting the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus. There are 2 basic icons in early Christian iconography. One of them is the scene where the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus are holding. The Virgin Mary is named "Theotokos," especially in Orthodox and Catholic Churches. This means "incarnate" God's mother. There is an unfinished Greek sentence in the mosaic here, and you only see the word "Χώρα," that is, "Kora," from which the church is named. Later, as we will see again in another Theotokos figure in Chora, the entire sentence is as follows: Χώρα του Αχωρήτου / Chora tou achoratou. This sentence means: "Containing what is not covered."
When we look to our left, you can see the figure of Jesus. This mosaic is actually a scene in every church, especially in the dome. Usually, in this scene, Jesus sits on his throne. There is a parchment or a book in his left hand, and if the book is open, certain verses can be read. He makes a blessing movement with his right hand. This figure is called "Pantocrator," that is, "the universe" or "the Lord of everything." In this scene, on the open page of the book that Jesus holds in his left hand, it says: “O all tired and heavy burdened ones! Come to me, and I will give you rest. ”(Matthew 11:28)
There is a chronological narration in the inner and outer narthexes. The narration starts from the inner narthex. When you enter the inner narthex from the outer narthex, two domes and human figures in these domes attract attention. In the center of the dome on the left are the Theotokos (Virgin Mary and baby Jesus); in the dome's center on the right are Pantocrator (Jesus, the lord of the universe) figures. People are surrounding them. Two of the four gospel books contain the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew and Luke. On the left, the dome with the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus in the center is the maternal pedigree of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke, and on the right is the pedigree of Jesus from the side of Joseph according to the Gospel of Matthew.
When we look around the dome on the left, you can see the story of Mary's mother and father (Yoakin and Anna) and the birth, childhood, and adolescence of Mary. After reaching adolescence, Mary becomes engaged to Joseph, and one day the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will conceive Jesus, and Mary sets out to visit her relative, Elizabeth. A few months later, Joseph learns that Meryem is pregnant. This story will continue on the outer narthex.
Around the dome on the right, you can see some of the miracles of Jesus in the gospel books. In these miracles, Jesus heals the sick, crippled, blind.
When you enter the Outer Narthex from Inner Narthex, you see Joseph's dream on the right mosaic panel. Joseph does not believe Mary, who told him that she was conceived from the Holy Spirit, and intends to leave her quietly. The angel, who appeared to him in his dream one night, said that he should believe in Mary and that they should go to Egypt to protect Mary and the child from future dangers. Thus, the journeys of Joseph and the pregnant Meryem begin. This section includes scenes such as the census, Bethlehem's journey, the birth of Jesus, and the journey to Nazareth.
When we look at the birth scene of Jesus, we see Mary, who gave birth. You can see the beam of light falling on the baby Jesus lying in the manger, the angels worshiping in the upper left corner, the water in the lower-left corner being prepared for Jesus' bathing, the angel's telling the good news to the shepherds in the upper right corner, and Joseph standing at the bottom like an anxious one. It is a comment that Joseph appears to be quite concerned about here. In this scene, where all these miracles and the stress brought by responsibilities are depicted, a genuine spiritual description is made.
On one side of the upper ceiling of the birth scene, John points to Isa with his fingers. He looks at the crowd behind him and says: "Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!" This scene depicts Jesus being baptized by John. On the other side of this scene is the scene of Jesus being tried by the devil in the desert.
There is a Pantocrator mosaic on the inner narthex door from the entrance of the church. Just above the figure of Jesus, we see the Greek Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and just below the word "Χώρα," or Kora, in the sentence. There is a complete sentence here, and it says: “ἡ Χώρα τῶν ζώντων.” All these writings, the whole sentence, mean: "Jesus Christ, Son of God, his living space."
Parecclesion is the additional chapel with burial niches and is also decorated with significant art history works. The more breathtaking the mosaic art is in the inner and outer narthexes, the frescoes are in the same degree.
The scenes in Parecclesion are divided into two. The first part includes scenes from the Old Testament; the second part includes scenes from the New Testament. Some of the scenes in the New Testament are taken from a source called the Gospel of Nicodemus. The main reason why the narrative here is this way is the emphasis on Covenant theology. Figures of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses from the Old Testament appear. These characters form the basis of the Old Testament. This section also includes scenes of moving the covenant chest and placing it in the Temple of Solomon.
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