The Hagia Sophia
Sunday, June 23
A cold Fanta and a plate of kebab was just the thing to revitalize us before visiting the next attraction of the day. That attraction, handily, was looming over us just a few metres away from our lunch spot: the mighty Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya in Turkish) - perhaps the best example of Byzantine architecture in the world and one of the great churches of antiquity.
Before visiting the interior, we visited the on-ground gardens immediately adjacent. These gardens house several interesting and beautiful buildings in their own right: the mausoleums of several Sultans, one a former baptistry of the Hagia Sophia. The rich calligraphic Islamic art decorating the interior of these mausoleums was exquisite.
Explanation of Tile Theft
Visiting the three sultans' mausoleums was well worth the time.. but now we were off to the main course, so to speak - the interior of the Hagia Sophia itself.
You could feel the Roman-ness to the place. Around the entrance and in unfinished and partially-finished areas was Roman-style of brickwork with its characteristic long, thin red bricks. The place was big, heavy-set. Thick.
As we got further into the interior, the exposed brickwork disappeared and was replaced with surfaces finished in the distinctive style of the Eastern Roman Empire - the Byzantine Empire. There was a beautiful Byzantine mosaic of a Madonna and child at the end of the main entrance hall.
The Hagia Sofia was built in 537 as a christian cathedral, during the time that the city was still called Constantinople - the center of the Byzantine Empire. It a vast place, covered by a huge and innovatively (for its time) constructed dome. The church was the largest in the world for a full 1000 years. With the end of the Byzantine Empire and the start of the rule of the Ottomans in 1543 (and the conversion of Constantinople to Istanbul and from Christianity to Islam) in 1453, the Hagia Sofia became a mosque. Fortunately, though, instead of being destroyed, much of the original Byzantine art was either left alone or covered over. When the mosque became a museum in 1935, some of the original Byzantine artwork was revealed or restored. What we are left with in the 21st century is a unique hybrid - a huge and interesting historic building that bears the art of two of the world's great religions.
Roof of Nave, Hagia Sofia
We spent a good hour touring the interior of the church/mosque, marvelling at the bulk and size of the place. You could tell this place had endured much: the curves of the domes, the lines of the walls and floor, much of it was a bit bent or slanted - somehow not quite square. It all lent an air of authentic "oldness" to the place.
High above was a combination of Islamic and Christian symbols - the Islamic calligraphy of the central dome; the Madonna and Child on the dome of the eastern apse; the huge shield-like circles containing koranic verses.
Spiralling to second floor
View across nave, Hagia Sofia
We climbed an old roman-style ramp to the balcony level, where there were many examples of restored Byzantine mosaics.
Partially Restored Mosaic
Blue Mosque and mausoleums