I recently made a three hour Istanbul tour in Balat, one of Istanbul’s oldest neighbourhoods. This part of town is a melting pot of immigrants, including Jews, Orthodox Christians, and of course Turks. It took me to the old City Walls, the Kariye Museum (Kariye Müzesi or Chora Church) and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. If you’re interested in Istanbul’s history from the late Roman times to contemporary periods, this is a nice excursion to make.
Istanbul Old City Walls
I found my way to the Kariye Museum in Edirnekapı, Fatih. But I didn’t go in yet. Since I was still fresh, I first walked a little uphill followed by a rather steep flight of stairs up the remains of the 5th century (and later) city walls. Although this climb is certainly not for everyone (there are no railing for instance), it is worth it. The view over the city is magnificent and what’s left of the walls — only one third of the original structure — is impressive.
Kariye Museum or Chora Church
After descending from the city walls, I found my way back to the Kariye Museum or Chora Church. This site developed from a small chapel in a rural setting — Chora means ‘in the country’ — into a Byzantine church (11th century) with convent. Later, after the siege of Constantinople, the church was converted into a mosque and became a museum in 1950.
Luckily the interior of the church was pretty much left untouched after the fall of Constantinople. Even today some of the finest Byzantine mosaics and frescoes can be found in the Kariye Museum, making it the most important Byzantine monument in Istanbul after the Hagia Sophia.
It was dedicated to Christ the Savior. The interior of the building is covered with wonderful mosaics and frescoes, illustrating scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary. Also pay special attention to its unique construction, and the usage of marble.
After leaving the Chora Church, I walked downhill through the Balat district. First through the Jewish quarter, followed by the Greek quarter. Pay attention to the differences in housing, and a series of authentic wooden houses as well as several (closed) synagogues and churches.
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate
After half an hour I arrived at the seat of the Greek Orthodox Church. The church itself (19th century) is not that impressive, but the icons inside are. A nice ending point for my cultural three hour tour.
Kariye Museum (Chora Church)
Adress: Kariye Camii Sok., Kariye Meydani, Edirnekapi.
Phone: +90 212 631 92 41
The easiest way is to there is by taxi, approximately 12 TL from Sultanahmet, and 20 TL from Taksim.