"The Edirne Gate"

choraEdirnekapı is the district right beside the Theodosian Land Walls at the end of Fevzi Paşa Cami, the main road through Fatih. Most people come here to visit the Chora Church (Kariye Cami) with its spectacular Byzantine mosaics and murals. Just a short walk away the Fethiye Cami is an almost equally impressive converted Byzantine church but goes much less visited.

But this area is not just about Byzantine churches and ancient walls. It is also home to one of Sinan's most magnificent works, the Mihrimah Sultan Cami that was built on top of the sixth of Constantinople's seven hills. Newly restored, the hamam attached to the mosque makes a good alternative to the more visited Turkish baths closer to Sultanahmet.

Edirnekapı is also a good place to start exploring the Theodosian City Walls if you don't want to walk along them from end to end.

St Saviour in Chora Church (Kariye Cami)

To find the Chora Church you need to get off the bus towards the end of Fevzi Paşa Caddesi and then head north along Salma Topruk Caddesi. It's well signposted.

Today it takes a lot of imagination to conjure up the early years of this Byzantine church-turned-mosque-turned-museum. At the time that the original church was constructed it stood in open countryside outside the original Constantinian city walls, hence the epithet "chora" which meant "country" in Greek. But that church was destroyed by an earthquake and by the time it was rebuilt between 1077 and 1081 it stood well inside the newer Theodosian walls.

That church was, in turn, was much rebuilt, especially between 1315 and 1321 when the damage done by the Fourth Crusaders was repaired and an outer narthex and parecclesion (side chapel) added. That work was commissioned and paid for by Theodore Metochites (1270-1332), an advisor to the Emperor Andronikos II Paleologos. It is to Theodore that we owe the lavish decoration in mosiac and fresco that so thrill visitors today. 

In a move reminiscent of recent disputes over the frescoes at Hagia Sophia in Trabzon, the grand vizier Atik Ali Paşa had the mosaics and frescoes whitewashed over as part of his conversion of the church into a mosque in 1511. 

In 1947 the church-mosque was turned into a museum (closed Wednesdays). The Byzantine Institute of America then spent 10 years uncovering the original decorations and restoring them to their current splendour, at its most vivid in the parecclesion.

Chora Church stands in a pleasant residential neighbourhood where much of the old housing stock has been renovated. The square facing it may be full of tables belonging to the "Ottoman" cafe there but a visit here does offer a glimpse of a part of the old city which is still just about managing to hang onto authentic life, complete with coal merchants' stock yards. 

mihrimahMihrimah Sultan Cami

Most people are in such a rush to visit the Chora Church that they completely overlook this splendid mosque, its interior rendered all the more amazing by recent renovation.

Perched on top of İstanbul's Sixth Hill just inside Edirnekapı, the huge and beautiful Mihrimah Sultan Mosque was built by Sinan between 1562 and 1565 for Mihrimah Sultan, the favourite daughter of Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. It dominates the landscape for miles around despite having only a single minaret.

The mosque complex, which included a seminary, primary school and hamam, was badly damaged by earthquakes in 1766 and 1894, but the newly restored mosque itself is spectacular, its interior drenched with light from the many windows that pierce the walls. The double hamam is still open to visitors; a scrub costs less than at more central baths. 

Immediately across the street in a small garden is a locked 19th-century church with a schoolhouse atached to it.

Just behind the mosque tucked up against the wall used to be the long-lived Roma neighbourhood of Sulukule that had featured in the James Bond film From Russia With Love.  In 2008 it hit world headlines with the news that it was to be demolished and its residents moved miles away to Taşoluk. Despite legal toing and froing the work is now complete and an entirely new district of executive housing now stands in its place. sulukuleNew-look Sulukule, 2012

Transport info

Buses from Eminönü to Fatih usually run right to the end of Fevzi Paşa Caddesi. 
Nearby areas
 oldsulukule"Welcome to the Dead City". Sulukule during demolition, 2009

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