Thursday's Child: Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Thursday, January 19, 2012
Have you ever seen pictures of a building and been amazed by its beauty, but assumed you’d never see it in person?  That’s the way I used to feel about the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.  Years ago I read a National Geographic article about this glorious church that was converted to a mosque, and later converted to a museum, and I wondered what it would be like to visit.  Istanbul was the ultimate romantic destination for me: the city where east meets west, the culmination of the Orient Express.  But I never imagined I’d go there myself. 

In 2010, this fantastic dream came true, and my family and I were fortunate enough to visit Turkey.  It’s a wonderful country, and we saw enough amazing sites to write a book about, let alone a blog post.  But there was nothing I looked forward to seeing more than the Hagia Sophia.

The Hagia Sophia (also known as Ayasofya) was built on this site in three different incarnations.  In the fourth century, Constantine the Great (for whom Constantinople was named) built the original church here.  After its destruction, a second church was immediately built, which was burnt down in riots in the early sixth century. 

Following that destruction, the church was built in a Byzantine style by Emperor Justinian.  The stunning architecture and the intricate mosaics made it one of the greatest Byzantine churches ever built. For 1000 years, it was the largest Christian church in the world until St. Peter’s Basilica was built in Rome. (It’s big enough to house Notre Dame Cathedral three times over.)

Despite being sacked during the Crusades and many of the riches being carried away to Rome, the Hagia Sophia continue as a functioning church until the Ottomans seized power in 1453. Sultan Mehmet, leader of the conquering forces, was struck by its beauty and turned it into a mosque.  The mosaics were plastered over due to the Muslim prohibition against having figurative imagery in a place of worship.  In their place, beautiful geometric designs were fashioned, reflecting the Islamic worship experience.


In 1934, the mosque was turned into a museum, and it was then that some of the mosaics were uncovered.  This has allowed the beauty of the Christian and Islamic art to shine side by side.  The Hagia Sophia, because of its enormous size and glorious artwork, is one of the most impressive buildings in the world.

And I discovered that sometimes, places you dream about visiting are even more beautiful than you can imagine!
Photo used courtesy of Turkey Vacation Places


37 comments:

Katerina said...

Beth you have touched a very sensitive part of me with your pictures. Hagia Sophia which means The Holly Wisdom (of God)is the symbol of all Orthodox Christians around the world. It symbolizes far too many contradicting things for us good but also painful. Your pictures are beautiful!

Natasha Price said...

Beautiful! I would sure love to visit one day!

Valerie said...

The intricate designs and all those graceful curves...it's amazing what people were capable of accomplishing long before our modern day technology!
Gorgeous photos, Beth!

Aarthi said...

nice clicks..


Aarthi
http://yummytummy-aarthi.blogspot.com/

Beth said...

Katerina, thank you for your very thoughtful comments. I would love to hear more, and I'll be in touch with you.

lisa is cooking said...

It must have been amazing to walk into this magnificent building! I studied architecture, and there are so many historic sites I hope to see in person some day. For now, I love seeing the photos. Yours are great!

Claudia said...

Isn't it amazing that sometimes when people create such beauty - it takes on a life of its own. A reminder of sorts - of goodness.

Belinda said...

I agree, one of the most romantic and beautiful places in the world. Thanks for taking me back!

Charlie Holmberg said...

Wow, those pictures are incredible.

Carol said...

How nice that your dream came true, it's a gorgeous place and I can see why you dreamed of being there. It's magnificent!

Mary said...

This is unbelievably beautiful. I have it on my dream list now too. I love reading about your travels! The places never fail to inspire me to dream of travel once again.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I have one word for this: Wow!!!!

Geez, is there a place you haven't visited, yet?

The Golden Eagle said...

Must have been awesome to finally get to visit it! :)

tenaciouslyyours.com said...

Oh, Istanbul. The city I never, ever thought I would visit and now it's the city I so hope we make it back to someday. Say what you will about those Sultans and Emperors, they Got Stuff Done In A Big Way.

Bonnie said...

Breathtakingly beautiful! Thank you for sharing the pictures and the information. I love reading about your travels, so interesting. I can live vicariously. Hugs! Bonnie

Joanne said...

I would imagine that the sheer awe of being in that beautiful structure would stay with you for a very long time.

Beth said...

Stina, my wish list is still pretty long!

Kat, I remember reading about your adventures in Turkey. It really is spectacular, isn't it?

Cindy said...

Beautiful building--thanks for the mini history lesson.

Raina said...

What an incredibly beautiful place. It must have been amazing in person!

Rita said...

What a fabulous post Beth. You described it very well; I know I will never go there, but you really brought to life for me; thank you.
Rita

sweetandcrumby.com said...

I can't believe how beautiful it is. You are so lucky to have gotten to experience in person and I am so glad you shared it here with us. Thank you for the mini history lesson as well. I love how much I learn here.

Miriam said...

So beautiful!! You always go to amazing places :),
Miriam@Meatless Meals For Meat Eaters

Angie's Recipes said...

It looks stunning! Like what I said before, you have been to everywhere!

Pacheco Patty said...

Beautiful light photos! It's so hard to photograph the inside of churches and these came out beautifully! We were also fortunate to visit Istanbul a few years back and the Hagia Sophia was a highlight, loved all the history there!

Elaine said...

I can't imagine what it would be like to see this in person. Your photos are beautiful.

bakewithjill.com said...

I've been there in person and I agree that it's fantastic. I'd love to go back to Turkey.

Julie said...

Amazing! Is there anywhere you haven't been?

MegSmith @ Cooking.In.College said...

Wow...absolutely gorgeous! Thanks for sharing.

Anna said...

Wow. It looks awe-inspiring, so glad you got to see it in person! I will live vicariously through you :)

Simply Life said...

oh the details in that are just breath-taking! great photos!

Lizzy said...

What an amazing site! My parents have visited Turkey and now you've convinced me I need to, too! Thanks for the kind condolences for my aunt. xo

sally said...

Beautiful! I might have to prioritize Turkey on the list of places that I would like to go.

Janet Johnson said...

Wow. I am in awe of that building. I don't imagine I'll ever get there either, but who knows what life might bring. Now I'm hoping . . . :)

grace said...

what an awe-inspiring place! in the past, i've had turkey high on my list of places to visit simply for the food, but this gives me more motivation!

Lori said...

So glad that your dream came true! We haven't been to Turkey yet, but every time I see a post like this I know it needs to mover higher up on the list.

Kayte said...

One of my history minors is in Byzantine History so I loved, loved, loved seeing this from you.

comfortablydomestic.com said...

So thrilled that you shared your experience at the Hagia Sophia! We are studying Emperor Justinian and the Byzantine Empire, and we touched on the Hagia Sophia just this afternoon. I can't wait to share this post with the kids tomorrow. :)

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