My walk to the Patriarchate was a task, but that’s what an adventure is, and should be. The more you put into it, the more you will get out of finding your destinations. Man, was it good to not be sitting in front of a computer in some crammed office.
We made our way by foot towards the southern part of the Golden Horn. One of the best moments was doing just this; walking through the old streets of the city, taking in the history of the neighborhoods, mostly housing Kurdish and gypsy families. One young boy asked us if he could have a lira for ice-cream. We upped the stakes, and said we’d give him a lira in exchange for a picture with him. He gladly obliged.
Probably after an estimated 45 minutes, we made our way to the Patriarchate. Surrounding by a high-standing wall and several trees, it was a little difficult to make out, but once seeing the information booth in the distance, we knew we were in the right neck of the woods.
The Patriarchate of Constantinople (Aya Yorgi Kilisesi)
Unlike the grandness of the Haghia Sophia, this now center of Orthodoxy is a rather quaint and humble church, named the church of St. George, or Aya Yorgi Kilisesi. However, the inside contains precious iconography and religious relics, including the body parts of a few saints, which is typical of Byzantine and Ottoman traditions. Before walking inside however, you see that the area consists the Patriarchate’s offices and library as well. The hours of operation are strict, and run from 8:30am to 4pm daily, so it was good that we made it in the middle of the day.Now, after leaving the Patriarchate, you must make your way up the hills, away from the water, going inland. Asking random people for directions at moments of insecurity, they kindly directed me in the right way. From the Patriarchate to the Chora church was roughly 30 minutes, and boy were my calves feeling it.
Chora Church (Kariye Muzesi)
Located on the southern point of the Golden Horn, this church was originally built outside the walls of Constantinople. Named “The Church of the Holy Redeemer in the Fields”, or in Greek, “E Ecclesia tou Ayiou Sotiros en ti Hora”, this magnificent church was built in the 5th century, and includes incredible mosaics of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. Although smaller in size than many churches, the mosaic artwork is breathtaking. The images of the biblical characters, including Jesus as the “Pantocrator/All Powerful God”, shine as vividly as they did a thousand years ago. Walking through the entire church, one must keep in mind that these workings were constructed ten centuries before the establishment of the current Vatican, and any major work done in Western Christianity.
The church was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman takeover of the city in 1453, with it’s iconic images covered up with plaster. Luckily, these images were preserved well enough to survive the turbulent centuries of empirical takeovers and religious feuding. The structure was turned into the Kariye Muzesi between 1948-1958, ‘Kariye’ coming from the Greek word for “Lord”.
Once you’re done with seeing the beautiful mosaics inside the Chora Church, there is a quaint café right out in front, perfect for relaxing your feet from the trek. Sitting, reflecting over a perfect cup of Turkish çay, gazing at the museum, I had one thing on my mind… it’s time to do my Ottoman tour of the city!