Monastery of Christ at Chora
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The Monastery of Christ at Chora (Μονή του Χριστού της Χώρα) was located in northwestern Byzantine Constantinople (modern Istanbul, Turkey) near Charisios Gate (Edirnekapı), south of the Palace of the Porphyrogenitus (Tekfur Sarayı). The well-preserved mosaics and frescoes of the surviving katholikon of the monastery are important examples of monumental art of the Late Byzantine period. After serving as a mosque (known as Kariye Mosque or Ali Pasha Kenise Mosque), it was converted into a museum in 1945 and is now included part of the Historic Areas of Istanbul of UNESCO World Heritage. 

The rural character of the site seems to account for the name chora (χώρα), which which can be interpreted as “land” or “in the country”. The site was originally outside the city walls built by Constantine, but also would have continued to be sparsely inhabited even during much of the Ottoman era. The word chora can also mean “dwelling place”, and may have interpreted in a mystical sense. Decoration of the building identifies Christ as “the land of the living” and the Virgin as “the container of the uncontainable”, both of which involve a play on the word chora.
The early history of Chora is obscure due in part to the many contradictions in the sources. According to one tradition, the relics of St. Babylas were located here in the early 4th century. Another tradition attributes its foundation to St. Theodore, an uncle of Theodora, the wife of Justinian I. A more reliable founder is general Crispus, the son-in-law of Emperor Phocas, who supposedly founded the monastery in the 7th century when Heraclius forced him to retire. The earliest archaeological evidence is the vaulted substructures under the naos, which have been dated as early as the 6th century. Chora was a center of the resistance to Iconoclasm in the 8th and 9th centuries, with the iconodule saint Michael Synkellos serving as its abbot. Other iconodule saints were buried there, including deposed Patriarch Germanos and Theophanes Graptos. 
The first phase of the current structure dates to the 11th century, when Maria Doukaina, the mother-in-law of Alexios I, restored the monastery around 1077-1081. Chora was again renovated in the 12th century (perhaps after being damaged by an earthquake) by the sebastokrator Isaac Komnenos (depicted in the Deesis mosaics in the inner narthex), when it took the form of an atrophied Greek cross. Isaac Komnenos, the younger brother of Emperor John II (1118-1143), had a tomb built at Chora, though he was later buried at the Kosmosoteira Monastery in Bera (modern Feres, Greece). Patriarch Kosmas was also buried at Chora in 1081. Chora was either damaged or falling into ruin during the Latin Occupation of Constantinople (1204-1261). The scholar Maximos Planudes and Patriarch Athanasios both commented on its poor state after the city was reconquered. The nun Melane (formerly Maria, daughter of Emperor Michael VIII) made donations to the monastery and might have sponsored some repairs around this time, as she is depicted in the Deesis mosaic in the inner narthex.
Theodore Metochites began to restore Chora on a grand scale around 1315. He was first the minister of the treasury when he began the project and subsequently was promoted to be the grand logothete (1316-1321). He was also one of the greatest scholars of his era and the first non-imperial founder of a monastery in the Late Byzantine era. His portrait is located above the entrance to the naos (nave), where he is depicted offering the church to Christ. The church was extensively rebuilt and lavishly decorated with mosaics and frescoes by Metochites. The monastery he refounded was endowed with substantial estates, as well as a hospital and a public kitchen. He also donated his extenisve collection of books, making it the most comprehensive library of Constantinople in the Late Byzantine era. After falling from power in 1328 and being exiled from the city for two years, he returned to Chora as a monk and was buried there in 1332. Several other Late Byzantine elites, including Michael Tornikes and his wife (monk Makarios and nun Eugenia), were also buried at Chora. 
Chora was one of the first churches to be looted when the Ottomans conquered the city in 1453. According to one tradition, the icon of the Virgin Hodegetria, which was stored in Chora in 1453, was cut into pieces by Ottoman soldiers who entered the city through the Gate of Adrianople. Chora was converted into a mosque during the reign of Bayezid II by the grand vizier Atik Ali Pasha before 1511, who founded its waqf (vakf). It became known as or (Ali Pasha) Kenise Mosque or Kariye Mosque (from the Arabic translation of Chora). At this time, a mihrab was added, while its belfry was demolished and replaced by a minaret. The mosaics and frescoes were partially covered with plaster around the 17th or 18th century. Mustafa Agha was responsible for building the nearby fountain in 1668. In the 18th century, the Chief Eunuch (Kızlarağa) Beshir Agha established an imaret (soup kitchen) and a school, both of which no longer survive. It was substantially repaired by the architect Ismail Halife after being damaged by an earthquake in 1766. It was also restored after the earthquake of 1894 which severely damaged the building and caused the minaret to collapse. Kariye gave its name to the local mahalle (“neighborhood”), the urban administrative unit located here.

By the late 19th century, it became popular with Western tourists, during which time it became known as the “Mosaic Mosque”. In 1945 Chora was turned into a museum and placed under the jurisdiction of the Ayasofya Museum. Starting in 1947, the Byzantine Institute of America (and later the Dumbarton Oaks Field Committee) began the conservation of Chora, cleaning the mosaics and frescoes and restoring the building. Its current restoration began in 2013. In 2020, it was officially converted into a mosque, though it is now closed. 

See also: Pammakaristos Monastery

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Naos
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Apse with its late 19th century mihrab

Mosaics of Christ and the Virgin Mary

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Koimesis (Dormition of the Virgin) 

Door lintel with birds, vases, and fruit baskets (6th century)

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Canopy with a bust of Christ Pantokrator

Mosaic of Christ

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Mosaic of Virgin Hodegetria

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Dome of the Naos

Monogram of Theodore Metochites from the
Monogram of Theodore Metochites from the
Monogram of Theodore Metochites from the
Monogram of Theodore Metochites from the

Monograms from the four axial points of the dome cornice with the names

Theodore Metochites and his titles Logothete and Ktetor (founder)

Θεόδωρος (east), Μετοχίτης (west), Λογοθέτης (south), και κτήτωρ (north)

South lunette window of the nave with th

South lunette window of the naos with names Theodore Metochites and his titles 

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Northern lunette window

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Marble Doors of the naos

Hypothetical Reconstruction of the Marbl

Hypothetical Reconstruction of the Marble Doors by Hjort

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Photo of Northern Passage from Underwood

Art and Architecture of Chora

The current structure is an atrophied Greek cross with an extensively decorated inner narthex, outer narthex, and a parekklesion (side chapel). Its plan lacks the cohesion typically found in Byzantine churches due partly to significant Byzantine restorations and Ottoman alterations over several centuries. The earliest archaeological evidence of the site is the vaulted substructures under the naos, which have been dated as early as the 6th century (with evidence of repair around the 9th century). The first phase of the current main structure likely consisted of a cross-in-square plan with a small dome resting on four columns. The northern, western, and southern walls of the present naos date to 11th century construction phase. When Chora was restored in the 12th century, it took the form of an atrophied Greek cross. The columns were replaced by piers supporting arches, while it was given a much larger dome and its apse was also enlarged. These changes allowed for both greater stability and a more spacious interior. Starting around 1315, Theodore Metochites restored Chora on a grand scale. He rebuilt its main dome and side rooms of the apse, while also replacing the narthexes and adding a parekklesion. The interior of Chora was redecorated with marble revetments, mosaics, and frescoes.

The outer narthex was originally an open portico, but its passageways were closed up and turned into arcosolia (for burials) in the 14th and 15th centuries. The inner narthex also had an arcosolium on its north wall. The parekklesion was an elongated two-bay apsidal hall with a pumpkin dome covering the western bay. It had four arcosolia containing tombs, two on each northern and southern wall, while an additional tomb was located under the floor at the center of its apse. A cistern dating to the same period is located underneath the parekklesion; it consists of two vaulted chambers (15.3 x 1.8 m) that were used to collect rainwater. In addition to its main entrance of the outer narthex, there is also narrow passageway connecting the parekklesion to the naos flanked by two rectangular rooms. It is possible that the one to the east served as an oratory, while the west room is in an unfinished state. While the main apse dates to the 12th century, the two apsed rooms flanking it were constructed in the 14th century. While the northern room, which is covered with drumless dome, is accessible from the central apse, access from the naos to the southern room, which is covered with a ribbed vault, was blocked in the 14th century. There is a two-story annex to the north of the naos, with the lower story connecting the narthex with the northern chapel. The upper story, which is accessed by a staircase, might have served as a skeuophylakion or a library. It originally had a bell tower in the southwest corner of the building, which was replaced by the present minaret.

The surviving scenes of the program funded by Theodore Metochites include cycles of the lives of Christ and the Virgin, the Old Testament ancestors of Christ and Old Testament prefigurations of the Virgin, and the Last Judgment. The 14th century marble revetments of the naos are almost completely preserved, though little of the mosaics of the naos have survived. Its decoration of the vaults and upper walls likely included the Twelve-Feast Cycle as was standard, though all that survives is the Koimesis and standing figures of Christ and the Virgin on each side of the apse. A bust image of Christ is over the doorway leading from the outer narthex to the inner narthex, with an image of the Virgin facing this image over the entrance. A large image of the Deesis is in the inner narthex, with its former founders Isaak Komnenos and the nun Melanie kneeling on each side. Two domes of the inner narthex are crowned with bust images of Christ and the Virgin surrounded by their Old Testament ancestors. The narthexes are extensively decorated mosaics of cycles of the lives of the Virgin and Christ, with the three bays of the inner narthex depicting the story of the Virgin (based on Protoevangelium), the lunettes of the outer narthex depicting the cycle of the Infancy of Christ, and the domical vaults of the outer narthex depicting the ministry and miracles of Christ. The main theme of the parekklesion is salvation, as it was a funeral chapel. It is lined with arcosolia and decorated with frescoes. The walls have images of standing saints, while it western dome has an image of the Virgin. The eastern bay is devoted to the Last Judgment, centered on the Anastasis (Harrowing of Hell), flanked by the damned and the entry of the elect into paradise.

Inner and Outer Narthexes
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Naos

1. Jesus Christ

2. Virgin Mary

3. Koimesis (Dormition of the Virgin)

 

Inner and Outer Narthexes

4. Christ Pantokrator

5. Virgin Blachernitissa

6. Enthroned Christ and Donor

7. Deesis

8. Christ Surrounded by Ancestors

9. Virgin Surrounded by Ancestors

10. Icons of Saints (on walls of exonarthex)

11. Icons of Peter and Paul

12. Additional saints (on arches of exonarthex)

13. Unidentified scene

14. Joachim’s Offering Rejected

15. Joachim in the Wilderness

16. Annunciation to St. Anne

17. Meeting at the Golden Gate

18. Birth of the Virgin

19. First Seven Steps of the Virgin

20. Virgin Blessed by the Priests

21. Virgin Caressed by her Parents

22. Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple

23. Virgin Fed by an Angel

24. Instruction of the Virgin

25. Skein of Purple Wool

26. Zaccharias Praying

27. Virgin Entrusted to Joseph

28. Joseph Taking the Virgin to his House

29. Annunciation to the Virgin

30. Joseph Taking Leave; Joseph Reproaching

31. Joseph Dreaming; Journey to Bethlehem

32. Enrollment for Taxation

33. Nativity of Christ

34. Journey of the Magi; Magi before Herod

35. Herod Inquiring

36. Return of Magi

37. Flight into Egypt

38. Massacre of the Innocents

39. Soldiers Slaying Children

40. Mothers Mourning

41. Flight of Elizabeth

42. Joseph Dreaming; Return of Holy Family

43. Christ Taken to Jerusalem

44. Christ Among the Doctors

45. John the Baptist Bearing Witness

46. John the Baptist Bearing Witness

47. Temptation of Christ

48. Miracle at Cana

49. Multiplication of Loaves

50. Christ Healing a Leper

51. Paralytic at Bethesda

52. Paralytic at Capernaum

54. Christ and Samaritan Woman

54. Christ Calling Zacchaeus

55. Christ Healing Blind and Dumb Man

56. Two Blind Men

57. St. Peter's Mother-in-Law

58. Woman with Issue of Blood

59. Man with Withered Hand

60. Christ Healing a Leper

61. Scene of Healing

62. Christ Healing a Multitude

Inner Narthex
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Enthroned Christ and donor Theodore Metochites

Inscriptions: 'Ι(ησού)ς Χ(ριστό)ς  | ἡ χώρα τών ζώντων / “Jesus Christ, the dwelling-place (chora) of the living”

 Ὁ κτήτωρ λογοθέτης τοῦ γενικοῦ Θεόδωρος ὁ Μετοχίτης / “The founder and Minister of the Treasury Theodore Metochites”

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Deesis with donors Isaac Komnenos and Melane the Nun

Inscriptions: Ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ὑψηλοτάτου βασιλέως Ἀλεξίου τοῦ Κομνηνοῦ Ἰσάακιος ὁ Πορφυρογέννητος

“Son of the most exalted emperor Alexios, Isaakios the porphyrogennetos”

 …Ἀνδ[ρον]ίκου τοῦ Παλαιολόγου ἡ κυρὰ τῶν Μουγουλίων Μελάνη ἡ μοναχή / “…of Andronikos Palaiologos the lady of the Mongols the nun Melane”

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Dome mosaic of Christ Pantokrator

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Dome mosaics with Genealogy of Christ: Enos, Abel, Adam, Seth, and Noah

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Dome mosaics with Virgin Surrounded by Ancestors

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Virgin Caressed by her Parents and Birth of the Virgin

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Virgin of the Source of Demetrius Tomb (Tomb H)

Inscriptions: Μ(ήτ)ηρ Θ(εο)ῦ ἡ ζωοδόχος πηγή / “Mother of God, the life-containing source”

Ζωῆς σὺ πηγὴ ὡς [Θεο]ῦ μή(τη)ρ Λόγου· / “You are the source of life as the Mother of God, the Logos”
Δημή[τριος δ’] ἔγωγε σὸς [δοῦλος] πόθῳ. / “And I am Demetrius your servant with love.”

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Military Saint from Demetrius Tomb (possibly c. mid 14th century)

Outer Narthex
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Christ Pantokrator

Inscription: 'Ι(ησού)ς Χ(ριστό)ς  | ἡ χώρα τών ζώντων / “Jesus Christ, the dwelling-place (chora) of the living”

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Outer Narthex of Chora.jpg

Temptation of Christ and John the Baptist Bearing Witness

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Nativity of Christ

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Joseph Dreaming and Return of Holy Family

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Miracle at Cana

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Virgin Blachernitissa and Angels

Inscription: Μ(ήτ)ηρ Θ(εο)ῦ ἡ χώρα τοῦ ἀχωρήτου / “Mother of God, the dwelling-place (chora) of the uncontainable”

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Arch Soffit of Tomb E

Frescoes of Virgin and Child with St. Cosmas and St. John of Damascus

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Portraits in Tomb F

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Capitals of the Outer Narthex

Parekklesion
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A                                     B                                  

                                                                            93                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

                    67                                        64        69      83                  87             84            88                   92                                                 68                   69                                                                                                                                 75                                                                                                          78                                                       

                                                                                                                                                                                              76                                63                             94                       79           77       80     94                     90                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               78                            81                                                              

        77                     73                    72                                                                                  89                    92           

                                                                            71       82        70                   86       85                              

                     66                                        65        94                                                               91                          

                                              D                                                            C                                

                                                                                                                       

Parekklesion

63. Virgin and Child with Angels

64. John of Damascus

65. Kosmas the Poet

66. Joseph the Poet

67. Theophanes Graptos

68. Jacob Wrestling Angel; Jacob's Ladder

69. Moses and the Burning Bush

70. Bearing of the Ark of the Covenant

71. Bearing of the Sacred Vessels

72. Solomon and All Israel

73. Installation of the Ark

74. Angel Smiting Assyrians

75. Three Priests before Altar

76. Souls of the Blessed in the Hand of God

77. Christ in Judgment

78. Choirs of the Elect

79. Scroll of Heaven

80. Hetoimasia and Weighing of Souls

81. Fiery Stream and Lake of Fire

82. Land and Sea Giving up Their Dead

83. Angel and a Soul

84. Lazarus in Abraham's Bosom

85. Rich Man in Hell

86. Torments of the Damned

87. Entry of Elect into Paradise

88. Raising of Widow's Son

89. Raising of Daughter of Jairus

90. Anastasis

91. Virgin Eleousa

92. Church Fathers

93. Additional saints (on walls of parekklesion)

94. Medallion portraits

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Anastasis (Harrowing of Hell)

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Last Judgment

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Virgin and Child with Angels in Parekklesion's dome of Chora

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Saints Basil, Gregory the Theologian, and Cyril of Alexandria

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Possibly the Tomb of Theodore Metochites

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Tomb of Michael Tornikes

Ὅσους ἂν ἁθροίζοι τις ἐνθάδε κρότους

νεκροὺς ὁ ταφεὶς ἐξελέγξει Τορνίκης

ὁ τρισαριστεὺς ἢ κονοσταῦλος μέγας

ὥσπερ μίμους, βέλτιστε, πιθήκους λέων·

ὃς βασιλικῶν ἀποτεχθεὶς αἱμάτων 5

παρέσχεν αὐτοῖς προσφυῆ καὶ τὸν τρόπον·

ποῖον γὰρ οὐκ ἦν ἀρετῆς εἶδος φέρων,

ὡς ὁ πρέπων ἕκαστον ἐζήτει χρόνος;

βουληφόρος δ’ οὖν καὶ πρὸ τῆς ἡλικίας

καὶ δημαγωγὸς καὶ κριτὴς ἦν ἀγχίνους 10

καὶ πρὸς μὲν ἐχθροὺς τακτικὴν ἔπνει φλόγα

κεραυνὸς ὢν ἄφυκτος αὐτοῖς ἁθρόοις·

τῇ δὲ στρατιᾷ π(ατ)ρικῶς ἐπεστάτει

φρουρῶν τὰ κοινά, μὴ κλαπῇ τὸ συμφέρον·

κήδους δὲ τυχὼν εὐγενοῦς καὶ κοσμίου 15

καὶ βασιλικὸν προσλαβὼν αὖθις γένος

καὶ λαμπρὸν ὑπόδειγμα παρεὶς τὸν βίον

κεῖται μοναστὴς εὐτελὴς ἐν ὀστέοις·

ἥλιε καὶ γῆ καὶ τελευταῖοι κρότοι,

πενθεῖ δὲ μικροῦ πᾶν τὸ Ῥωμαίων γένος, 20

ὅσονπερ αὐτὸν ἀγνοοῦν οὐ τυγχάνει·

ἀλλ’ ὦ μόνε ζῶν καὶ μεθιστῶν τὰς φύσεις,

εἴ πού τι καὶ πέπραχεν αὐτῷ μὴ πρέπον,

λύσιν παρασχὼν τὴν Ἐδὲμ κλῆρον δίδου.

However many applauses one may collect here (on earth),

the buried Tornikes, the triplebest

or Grand Marshall,

will convict them dead

just as a lion, O dear friend, does so to mimicking apes.

He who was born of imperial blood 5

also showed a way of life that was fitting to it.

For what form of virtue did he not possess,

as the appropriate time required in each case?

He was also a counsellor before (mature) age

and a popular leader and astute judge, 10

and against enemies he breathed a tactical flame,

being an inescapable thunderbolt on this crowded mass.

He presided over the army like a father

guarding the common good so that the useful would not be robbed.

Attaining a noble and befitting marriage, 15

and again obtaining imperial lineage,

and leaving this life as a radiant example,

he lies as a simple monk among the bones.

O sun, O earth, O final applauses,

nearly the entire Roman race is in mourning, 20

as far as he is not unknown.

But O only living one and transformer of natures,

even if he did something not fitting to him,

granting him pardon, give him Eden as his inheritance.

Translated by Andreas Rhoby

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Unknown Tomb 

St. George (left) and St. Demetrius (right) with medallions of St. Florus and St. Laurus

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Dome of the Prothesis

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Front of a sarcophagus found under floor of the parekklesion apse (now in inner narthex)

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Apse of the parekklesion at the beginning of its cleaning

Mustafa Agha Fountain of Kariye Mosque (

Mustafa Agha Fountain of Kariye Mosque (1668)

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Tomb of Abu Saʽid al-Khudri, companion (sahabah) of Prophet Muhammad

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Photo by Charles Samz (1971)

OpenBU

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Postcard of Mosquée Kahrié (Dumbarton Oaks)

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Photo by Sebah & Joaillier (1890s)

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Photo by Guillaume Berggren (1880s)

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Photo by Claude-Marie Ferrier (1850s)

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From Byzantine Studies by Paspates (1877)​​​​

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Kariye in the early 20th century (by Sabiha Rüştü Bozcalı ?)

Salt Archives

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From Pulgher (1880)

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Photo of Substructures

From the Nicholas V. Artamonoff Collection

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Cistern Plan by Forchheimer & Strzygowski

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Insurance Maps by Pervititch

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Plan by Müller-Wiener

Istanbul Archaeological Museums
Relief Fragments from the Monastery of C

Relief Fragments

Including fragments of the Head of an Emperor (possibly 6th c.) and Head of an Angel (13th-14th c.)

Stained Glass Fragments (c. early 12th c

Stained Glass Fragments (c. early 12th century)

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Photos of Stained Glass Fragments from Megaw

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Capital (IST No. 71.144)

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Fragment of Decorated Slab

Funerary Inscription Fragment

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Sarcophagus Fragment

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Fragments of Archivolt / Fragments of Closure Slab

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Molding with Fleur-de-Lis Motif

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Screen Fragment

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Colonnette Fragments

References

The Kariye Djami Paul A. Underwood

Art Of The Kariye Camii by Robert Ousterhout

Architecture in the Balkans: From Diocletian to Süleyman the Magnificent by Slobodan Ćurčić

Restoring Byzantium: The Kariye Camii in Istanbul and the Byzantine Institute Restoration edited by H. Klein and R. Ousterhout

Byzantine Architecture by Cyril Mango

Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls: Byzantion, Konstantinupolis, Istanbul by Müller-Wiener

Architecture and Ritual in the Churches of Constantinople by Vasileios Marinis

Byzantine Churches in Constantinople: Their History and Architecture by Alexander Van Millingen

La géographie ecclésiastique de l'Empire byzantin by R. Janin

Converted Byzantine Churches in Istanbul: Their Transformation Into Mosques and Masjids by S. Kirimtayif

İstanbul'da Bizans Dönemi Sarnıçlarının Mimari Özellikleri ve Kentin Tarihsel Topografyasındaki Dağılımı by Kerim Altuğ

La sculpture Byzantine figurée au Musée Archéologique d'Istanbul by Nezih Fıratlı

Late Byzantine Sculpture by Nicolas Melvani

Die Byzantinischen Wasserbehalter von Konstantinopel by Forchheimer & Strzygowski

“Finding a place in History: The Chora Monastery and its patrons” by Robert Ousterhout

“The Sculpture of Kariye Camii” by Øystein Hjort

“Kariye Camii” (İstanbul Ansiklopedisi) by Semavi Eyice

“Kariye Camii” (Islam Ansiklopedisi) by Semavi Eyice

“Notes on Recent Work of the Byzantine Institute in Istanbul” (1963) by Arthur H. S. Megaw

“Chora monastery (Kariye Camii)” Emmanuel Moutafov (Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World, Constantinople)

Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium edited by Alexander Kazhdan


Resources

Monastery of Christ at Chora Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Parekklesion of Chora Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Inner Narthex of Chora Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Outer Narthex of Chora Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Nave of Chora Album (Byzantine Legacy Flickr)

Chora Monastery (1200 Byzantium)

Christos tes Choras (NYU Byzantine Churches of Istanbul)

Kariye Camii (Nicholas V. Artamonoff Collection)

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