Istanbul has been on my bucket list for ages. In my mind’s eye, I conjured up exotic images of the ancient spice route, fragrant food and colourful bazaars. I had heard mixed reports about the political stability in the city, but when a friend, who lives there invited me to visit I jumped at the opportunity and besides visiting the Hagia Sophia was on my bucket list.
There is so much to see and do in Istanbul. It wasn’t long before I felt completely at home. I loved my visit and would definitely go back if the opportunity arose. At no stage did I feel unsafe or threatened in any way.
The Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia has a number of names. It is known as the Ayasofya in Turkish and Sancta Sofia in Latin. The name has its origins in Greek and means “Church of the Divine Wisdom”. Both of these names are used in the city, although I heard it referred to as the Ayasofya most often.
A little bit of history
The structure we see today is the third church to be built on this site. The first two (built in AD 360 and AD 415) were destroyed by fire. The Emperor Justinian had the current building constructed in the 6th Century as a Greek Orthodox Church.
During the 4th Crusade, in 1204, many of the treasures were looted and taken to Venice by mule where they still can be seen in St. Marks Basilica.
With the arrival of the Ottomans in the 15th century, it was converted to a mosque. This was when the minarets were added and the direction of the apse was changed to face Mecca. Over time the mosaics and caliphs were added
The building was proclaimed a museum by the founder of the Turkish republic, Mustafa Atatürk, in 1935.
Most of the Christian mosaics are located in the upper gallery of the temple. This was once the section for women during both the Byzantine and Ottoman eras. The oldest mosaic dates back to the 9th century AD.
The Sultan Mehmed II unwittingly protected the Christian mosaics because he ordered that they were whitewashed over and covered in Islamic designs. They were later uncovered and restored. Their restoration has been an ongoing project for more than 100 years. This is understandable considering that there are more than 30 million mosaic tiles in the mosque.
The Apse Mosaic
If you look up in the centre of the quarter dome you will see a mosaic of the Virgin Mary is sitting on a throne holding the baby Jesus. This dates from the 9th century and is characteristic of the iconoclastic style.
Hagia Sofia Virgin Mary Mosaic
In this mosaic, we see John the Baptist ( on the right) and the Virgin Mary ( on the left) with Jesus in the middle. This is considered to be the start of the Renaissance style and dates from the 13th Century.
There are many more beautiful mosaics, not all of which have religious connotations to explore. Purely from an artistic point of view, I think that they are exquisite. I am astounded that they are still in such an amazing condition.
Fun Facts about Hagia Sophia
- The Hagia Sofia has the second largest dome in the world after the Pantheon in Rome.
- It took more than 10 000 men just to construct the dome. In fact, it was completed in 5 years, 10 months and 4 days
- It was the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520.
- The main dome is supported by hollow bricks that were specially made in Rhodes, using a very light and porous clay.
- The total surface area of the domes and cupolas is around 19 000 sq metres
- Open every day from 9 am until 5 pm in the winter (last entry 4 pm) and until 7 pm in the summer (last entry 6 pm).
- You can buy tickets at the main gate close to the Tramway stop.
- There are automated machines for card purchases, but in fact, these were not working when I was there.
- The nearest stop for visiting the Hagia Sophia on the T1 tramway is ‘Sultanahmet’
- It is about a 20 min walk from the Eminönü ferry terminal or Sirkeci station on the Marmaray line.
Tips for visiting the Hagia Sophia
- It can also be very hot standing in the queue so take something to drink and some form of shade.
- You can buy a ticket late in the afternoon when there is almost no queue and then use it the next day by going straight to the turnstiles and avoiding the queue.
Here’s more : What to do in Istanbul
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