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|