Kariye Müzesi (Chora Church), Istanbul
Tel: 90 212 631 9241
Concierge.com's insider take:
Tucked away in a far corner of the Old City, just by the Edirnekapı gate, is the tiny Kariye Museum, also known as the Chora Church. This small building (more akin to a chapel) went up sometime during the 11th century, while its spectacular Byzantine mosaics and paintings date to around 1312. As Islam swept across Istanbul following the Ottoman conquest in 1453, the little church was converted into a mosque and the artwork plastered over, only to be re-revealed in 1948 when it became a deconsecrated museum. The restorers have done a great job: The walls and six domes of the church are adorned with images and stories from the life of Christ and various saints and apostles; one of the most impressive scenes is the enormous Khalke Jesus and the praying virgin, a partially salvaged gilded mosaic on the first wall of the inner narthex (entrance hall). The best time to go is after 3 pm, as the tour buses tend to come earlier in the day. A stroll through the surrounding residential neighborhood of painted wooden houses and winding streets is worth the time, as is the traditional Ottoman lunch menu at the fantastic Asithane restaurant in the Kariye Hotel next door (6 Kariye Camii Sokak; 90-212-534-8414; www.kariyeotel.com).