Istanbul Map
Site Index
Contact
Random
Our Travel Books
Advertising / Press

Inside the Hagia Sophia

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

The Hagia Sophia isn’t just the best-known tourist attraction in Istanbul, or one of Europe’s most cherished landmarks… it’s one of the greatest buildings in human history. This church, nearly 1500 years in age, was once the center of Byzantine faith, later reborn as the predominant mosque of the Ottoman Empire, and today has found a new purpose as one of the world’s most popular museums.

Hagia-Sophia-HD

We spent nearly three hours inside the Hagia Sophia. There’s a lot to see, and all of it is fascinating. This is the kind of place where even the floors, doors and walls have stories to tell. I’m serious: this circular pattern in the floor marks the Omphalos, where Byzantine emperors were crowned. That massive wooden door is the Imperial Gate, reserved for the entrances of the emperor and his family, and rumored to have been made from the wood of Noah’s Ark. And there in the wall, you’ll see one of the church’s magnificent Byzantine mosaics.

These mosaics have survived the centuries in superb condition, thanks mainly to Muslim sensitivities. Human representations are disallowed in mosques, so the mosaics were covered up and thus protected during Ottoman rule. The mosaic above the aforementioned Imperial Gate depicts Emperor Leo VI on his knees before Christ. There’s a wonderful Deesis mosaic in the upper gallery, with Mary and John the Baptist imploring Christ to forgive humanity. And the mosaic of Mother Mary with baby Jesus in her lap, in the dome of the apse, is marvelous. But our favorites were those of the four seraphim, God’s guardian angels, in the dome’s supporting pendentives. During restorations in 2009, one was discovered to have a face hiding underneath its protective golden shield.

Ayasofya Istanbul Turkey

Impressive as the mosaics are, they can’t compete with the church’s dome: a true architectural wonder. Measuring in at 55 meters in height and 32 meters in diameter, with 40 windows that allow in abundant light, this dome was by far the largest ever attempted when it was constructed. Especially with the two half-domes which exaggerate its size, the dome creates an illusion of immense space. Standing down at ground level, looking up, it’s hard not to feel insignificant.

Yes, standing in the center of this church, looking up at the massive dome and its seraphim, admiring the giant Arab calligraphy, considering the number of emperors and sultans who have passed through here, and who have probably stood exactly where you’re standing right now… it’s very hard not to feel insignificant. Because, and it takes maybe an hour inside the Hagia Sophia before you start to genuinely grasp this, you really are insignificant. Look up again at that dome. Think about how long ago it was built, and then try to say aloud “My life has worth”. Ridiculous. You’re a tiny drop in the ocean of human history. You, your silly problems, your proudest accomplishments… they mean absolutely nothing.

Wow. Thanks for ruining my day, Hagia Sophia. But despite the small existential crisis, our visit here was one of the highlights of our time in Istanbul. Unforgettable.

Location on our Istanbul Map
Related: History of the Hagia Sofia

Buy One Of Our Hagia Sophia Photos As Framed Art Here

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia Travel BLog
Hagia Sophia Souvenirs
Sightseeing istanbul
Istanbul travel Hagia Sophia
Istanbul Hagia Sophia
Travel Article Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia Istanbul Turkey
Hagia Sophia Opening Hours
Hagia Sophia Tours
Istanbul Blog Travel Book
Ayasofya
Ayasofya Istanbul
Estambul
Estambul Viajes
Istanbul Reisen
Istanbul Reisebücher
???? ?????
Hagia Sophia Museum
Hagia Sophia HD Photos
Framed Photos Souvenirs Istanbul
Hagia Sophia Kirche Istanbul
Istanbul 2013
Istanbul Reise Info
Istanbul
For 91 Days In Istanbul
Gerahmte Fotos Istanbul
The Omphalos: where emperors were crowned
Souvenirs Istanbul
Istanbul Travel Blogg
Istanbul Blogg
Travel Blogg
Santa Sophia
Santa Sophia Estambul
Istanbul Travel Info
Istanbul Spass
Beautiful Photos Istanbul
Istanbul Best Photos
Photo Award Istanbul
Travel Photographer
Reisefotograf
Photographer Travel HD
Estambul Photographos
Flights Istanbul
Graffiti left by Vikings. Yes: Vikings
Hagia Sophia 2013
Hagia Sophia Istanbul
Hagia Sophia Travel Blogg
Istanbul Photo Books
Hagia Sophia Turkey
A Wishing Column
Is Istanbul Safe?
, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
May 21, 2013 at 1:45 pm Comments (4)

The History of the Hagia Sophia

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

Were we excited to visit the Hagia Sophia? It’s just one of the most legendary buildings on the planet. The largest church in the world for a thousand years. The scene of some of history’s most decisive moments. A breathtaking architectural achievement on a scale unthinkable for its day. Yes, I suppose it’s fair to say that we were excited.

Hagia Sophia HD

Ever since arriving in Istanbul, I’d been eagerly anticipating our visit to the Hagia Sophia. Scratch that: I’d been eagerly anticipating a visit since 1984 when, at the age of seven, I read about it in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Now the long-awaited day had finally arrived, and it was every bit as amazing as I had hoped. The instant I stepped inside the Hagia Sofia, the Church of Divine Wisdom, I felt transported into another world.

The building we see today is actually the third church built on the site. The first, completed in 360, was destroyed during a riot in 404, and no trace remains. And the second church was burnt to the ground in 513 during the infamous Nika Riots. One of worst riots in history, this popular outburst of rage resulted in tens of thousands of deaths and the destruction of half of Constantinople’s buildings. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian, though, emerged unscathed and more powerful than ever. With a free rein to rebuild the city as he liked, he started with the Hagia Sophia.

Completed in 537, Justinian’s new church was immediately hailed as an unprecedented architectural achievement. The empire’s greatest mathematicians and physicists had been brought in to supervise and consult on the construction, nothing on the scale of which had ever been attempted. The Hagia Sophia was by far the biggest church in the world, and would remain so for nearly a thousand years. It’s almost unthinkable. Try to imagine how otherworldly and groundbreaking a modern-day skyscraper would have to be, to remain unsurpassed for the next millennium. I don’t actually think it’s possible, anymore.

Hagia Sophia Postcards

Despite its preeminence, the Hagia Sophia hasn’t been immune to the passage of history. It exists, after all, in one of the most tumultuous capitals on earth, and has had as many masters as Istanbul has had names. First and foremost, it was a Byzantine church and the center of the Orthodox world. For a brief interlude, from 1204 to 1261, it was converted into a Roman Catholic church, following the Fourth Crusade which crippled Byzantine. The marauding crusaders even installed a prostitute on the patriarch’s throne, in mockery of the Eastern faith.

Luckily, the next masters of Constantinople would treat the church with more respect. After sacking the city in 1453, the Ottoman forces under Mehmet II the Conqueror enjoyed three days of pillaging, but the Hagia Sophia was mostly spared. The church had been as famous in the Arab world as in the Christian, and it had been Mehmet’s lifelong ambition to see it converted into a mosque. During the long eclipse of the Byzantine Empire, the church had fallen into a deplorable state, but the Turks restored it to its former glory. For the next 500 years, it served as the most important mosque in the Ottoman Empire.

In 1935, the nascent Turkish Republic recognized that the Hagia Sophia was more important as a monument of our shared cultural heritage, than as yet another mosque. On the orders of Atatürk, it was converted into a museum. A good move, in my opinion. Today, it’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, and certainly among the most impressive we’ve ever visited.

Location on our Istanbul Map

Buy A Framed Photo Of The Hagia Sophia From Us

Flider Haus Istanbul
Hagia Sophia Istanbul
Hagia Sophia
3 Santa Sophia Istanbul
The line to enter the church… on a slow day
4 Hagia Sophia Travel Blog
Hagia Sophia Travel Articles
Remnants of the 2nd church, destroyed in 513
Travel Guide Istanbul
Istanbul Travel Articles Tips
Hagia Sofia Istanbul
Hagia Sophia Turkey
Hagia Sophia Photos
Hagia Sophia Istanbul Turkey
Istanbul Hagia Sophia
, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
May 19, 2013 at 2:14 pm Comments (3)

The Gül Camii and Aya Nikola

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

Istanbul has no shortage of old churches and mosques, and it can often feel like too much of a good thing. As our time in the city progressed, we would increasingly find ourselves saying something like, “Honestly, I think we’ve visited enough mosques”. But what are we going to do? Simply ignore something as amazing as the Gül Camii?

Gul-Mosque-Art

When entering an ancient mosque, we’ve learned to look for the placement of the mihrab: the semicircular niche which indicates the direction of Mecca. Orthodox churches face east, but a mosque should be oriented toward Mecca. If you’re in a mosque that was originally built as a mosque, the mihrab is integrated soundly into the architecture. But if you’re in a former church which has undergone conversion, the mihrab will be off to the side, inelegantly askew.

The mihrab in the Gül Camii (Rose Mosque) was askew, because this was originally the Byzantine Church of St. Theodosia. Dating from the 12th century, it’s a small square-shaped structure, built of red brick, which used to guard the corpse of St. Theodosia. Theodosia was a nun martyred during the 8th century struggle against iconoclasm. While protesting the removal of a particularly revered icon at Constantinople’s Great Palace, she shook a ladder and killed the soldier who was atop it. For this crime, she was executed by having a ram’s horn hammered through her neck. Our ancestors were so creative!

May 29th, the day on which the Ottomans overran Istanbul in 1453, just happened to be Theodosia’s Saint Day, and the church was full of worshipers. According to at least one account, the marauding Turks stormed inside, chased out the Byzantines, and threw the saint’s bones to the dogs. And then they converted her church into a mosque. Poor Theodosia had it as tough in death as in life.

Aya-Nikola-Church-Istanbul

After finding the Gül Camii, we tracked down the nearby Aya Nikola: a Greek Orthodox church. This rundown old building on the shore of the Golden Horn looks nothing like a church, but after ringing the doorbell, we were welcomed in by a friendly Greek woman. The Aya Nikola is small, dark, and lavishly decorated, with a fantastic wall of icons around the altar. But I got the distinct impression it’s no longer in service.

Part of the reason we enjoy hunting down these old churches, is the excuse it gives us to explore new neighborhoods. From the Aya Nikola, we walked along the coast of the Golden Horn up into the hills of Fener and Balat, the old Jewish quarter. It’s rarely visited, but we found this area west of the Atatürk Bridge to be one of the most picturesque in Istanbul.

Locations on our Map: Gül Camii | Aya Nikola

Our Istanbul Cat Blog

More Photos of the Gül Camii
Gul-Mosque-Istanbul
Gul-Camii-Dome-Mosque
Gul-Light
Pray-Column
Mosque-Black-Board
More Photos of the Aya Nikola
Religion-Mix-Istanbul
Greek-Roof-Glass
Golden-Ship-Lamp-Greek-Orthodox-Istanbul
Aya-Nikola-Istanbul
Greek-Orthodox-Art-Istanbul
Holy-Water-Istanbul
Aya-Nikola-Eagle
Pictures from the Neighborhood
Balat-Neighborhood-Istanbul
Drying-Cloth
Fatih-Istanbul-In-2013
Fatih-Streets
Greece-In-Istanbul
Greece-Jesus-Turkey
Greek-Column
Mosaic-Tower
Mossy-Stairs-Istanbul
Old-Balat-Streets
Old-Door-Istanbul
Old-Gate-Istanbul
Old-Greek-Boy-School
Old-Istanbul
Old-Street-Fatih
Steam In The City
Old Istanbul Blog
Steam-Walk
Steamy-Fatih
The-Other-Golden-Horn
Travel-Blog-Istanbul
Walking-Tour-Istanbul
/Weird-Streets-Istanbul
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
May 11, 2013 at 8:27 am Comments (0)

Sunday Morning in Kumkapı

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

The neighborhood south of the Grand Bazaar, bordering the Sea of Marmara, goes by the entertaining name of Kumkapı. Although it doesn’t lay claim to any major sights or fabulous mosques, we enjoyed the quiet Sunday morning we spent here. And now, we can finally strike “Attend an Armenian Apostolic Mass” from our bucket lists. Another childhood dream accomplished!

Aile-Shopping-istanbul

Despite the rocky historical relationship between Turkey and its landlocked neighbor to the east, Istanbul has always been home to a sizable population of Armenians; today the number is around 60,000, and many of them live in Kumkapı. Armenians are a strongly Christian people, and part of the reason we chose a Sunday morning to explore the neighborhood was to sit in on mass at the church of Surp Asdvadzadzin.

Armenia is one of the world’s oldest Christian nations; the first country in the world, in fact, to have made Christianity its official state religion. Despite the moderate number of worshipers at the large church, originally built in 1641, we enjoyed the atmosphere: the heavy use of incense, the small choir in front of the altar, and the priest almost yelling at his congregation in a language that sounds a bit like Greek.

After sneaking out of the church, we wandered through a maze of streets packed with fish restaurants. This is one of the most popular evening hangout zones for Istanbullus, who spend their nights eating fish, drinking rakı, listening to music, and having impromptu dance parties around their tables. We swore to return on a Saturday night, because if the mess on Sunday morning is any indication, it must be a good time.

We found a couple other churches in Kumkapı, including the massive Greek Orthodox church of Panaya Elpeda. Built in the 15th century, this looked incredible, but was unfortunately closed to visitors. There was a woman at the gate, but she wasn’t about to consider letting us in. We had to lay on the sweet talk pretty thick, before she would even allow us to snap a quick photo.

Location of the Surp Asdvadzadzin

Book Your Istanbul Hotel Here

Taksi-Istanbul
Balcony-Istanbul
Batman-Market
Early-Morning-Istanbul
Isrtanbul-Dudes
Cute-Puppies
Super-Old-Hamam-Kumkapi
Kumkap%c4%b1-Istanbul
Kumkapi Street Market
Istanbul-Street-Photographer
Painting-In-Istanbul
Istanbul-Portrait
Turkish-Carpet
Leaving-the-Church
Cute-Kid
Candle-Boy
Surp-Asdvadzadzin
Armenian-Art
Dish-Network-Turkey
Pantoffel
Armenien-Coat
Abschlepp
Super-Modern-Mosque-Construction
Pink-House-Istanbul
Old Door Istanbul
Old Istanbul Stairs
Red-Corner-Istanbul
Turkish-Kids
Window-Bread
Vintage-Building-Istanbul
Bird-House-Lantern
Tons-Of-Restaurants
Greek-Orthodox-church-of-Panaya-Elpeda
Triangle-Eye
, , , , , , , , , ,
April 4, 2013 at 3:16 pm Comments (5)
Inside the Hagia Sophia The Hagia Sophia isn't just the best-known tourist attraction in Istanbul, or one of Europe's most cherished landmarks... it's one of the greatest buildings in human history. This church, nearly 1500 years in age, was once the center of Byzantine faith, later reborn as the predominant mosque of the Ottoman Empire, and today has found a new purpose as one of the world's most popular museums.
For 91 Days