After our tours of the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market this morning, we make our way towards the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. We arrived in Istanbul with no plan and only a map from the hotel, so we have to follow a few signs and other tourists to get to the right spot. The Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are right next door to each other, so we more or less flip a coin and decide to see the Hagia Sophia first. I’m not mad about this, as it’s the main thing I wanted to see while here.
The Hagia Sophia was built in 537 as an Orthodox cathedral until Constantinople (the former name of Istanbul) was sacked by the Ottoman Empire and converted to a mosque. Today it has been secularized and turned into a museum.
Next to the entrance are some of the remains of the second Hagia Sophia church that stood on this site before the current structure was built. You can see reliefs of 12 lambs which represent the 12 apostles.
Kitty! They are everywhere in this city, and surprisingly, they don’t look like they are starving or sick. Turkey must have a great way of looking after its stray animals.
Almost immediately upon entering, I’m blown away by the size of this place. It’s massive! The main door must be three stories tall.
Because the Hagia Sophia is no longer a working religious monument, we are free to wander the entire building, taking photos and listening to our electronic guided tour. Areas that were once closed to the public are now open for visitors.
Even the kitties can roam freely!
Part of the Hagia Sophia is undergoing restorations, hence the scaffolding right in the middle of the nave.
There is some controversy over these restorations. Due to the Hagia Sophia’s long history as both a church and mosque, there’s much debate over whether to restore the Christian or Islamic artwork. When the Ottomans took over, they covered up and painted over the Christian iconography, so to restore them, the historic Islamic art would need to be removed. The restorers have done a great job of finding a balance of keeping both.
Many of the gold mosaics have been uncovered and appear (to me, anyway) to be in really good condition.
One of the most controversial restorations though, is the center of the ceiling. It is thought to have a gold mosaic of Christ as Master of the World, but to uncover it, the Islamic calligraphy would have to be removed.
Not that they look the same, but this mixture of Christian and Islamic details in the same building reminds me of the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba in Spain. The different religious styles blend so seamlessly, it’s almost like they are meant to go together.
This urn and its twin were added during Ottoman rule and are carved from a single piece of marble. Naughty Maggie trying to sneak a touch!
The electronic guided tour is a great way of learning more about the Hagia Sophia while you explore it at your own pace. You can listen to as much or as little as you want and take pictures to your hearts content. Unfortunately, you still have to find the sites on your own. One thing I didn’t get to see is the 9th century Viking graffiti carved into the marble parapets. Bummer!
Before heading upstairs, I notice a crowd of people around this weird hole. Fortunately the electronic guide explains that if you touch this spot, it’s supposed to cure your illness. I’m not feeling sick, just tired, but I give it a good rub anyway. Can’t hurt, right?
Upstairs the views just keep getting better. This area used to be reserved for the empress and her court, but is now open to everyone.
From a window, you can see the nearby Blue Mosque which we’ll visit right after lunch!
I’m so glad I finally got to see the Hagia Sophia in person. It’s been on my bucket list for years and it definitely lived up to the hype. I just hope I get the chance to come back someday, so I can look for that Viking graffiti!