The word "chora" means "outside the city, the countryside". Probably, a small church built here before the erection of the 5th century Roman city walls gave its name to the later churches built on the same site. The present-day edifice is dated to the llth-14th centuries. Besides its attractive exterior, the mosaics and frescoes inside are considered masterpieces of the Byzantine "renaissance". These decorations and the additions made in the 14th century were ordered by Theodore Metochites. Mosaic panels in the two narthexes at the entrance depict the lives of the Virgin and Christ in the chronological order described in the Bible. Religious subjects were depicted in the form of frescoes in the side chapel. Prominent church and court personalities also figure in these frescoes.
The mosaics and frescoes, that were partially whitewashed when the church was converted into a mosque in the early 16th century, were revealed and restored by the Byzantine Institute of America in the 1950's.
The Chora monastery and its church gained in importance in time when they became neighbors with the imperial palaces. These rich and meticulous decorations were made by master artists under the difficult conditions of the 14th century.
The famous scholar and statesman Theodore Metochites built the side chapel, the exonarthex and had the church decorated in the 1320's. The mosaic panels were created by a group of artists. The mosaics on the upper sections of the inner narthex have not survived to our day. It was characteristic of Byzantine art to add monograms and inscriptions next to the figures.
The museum is located in a charming district with old wooden houses, hotels and cafes.