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Is it a Church, Mosque or Museum?
Haghia Sophia (Istanbul, Turkey)
Member Name: garymarsh6
Haghia Sophia (Istanbul, Turkey)
Date: 28/06/11, updated on 29/06/11 (149 review reads)
Advantages: Wander in awe at this beautiful structure it will not fail to please you.
Disadvantages: None as far as I am concerned.
Following my visit to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul directly opposite is the Hagia Sophia known in Turkish as the Aya Sophia. If you think the blue mosque is impressive then you will be absolutely astounded by the beauty found inside the Hagia Sophia. It was originally a Christian church then a mosque and now a museum. The orthodox meaning of Hagia Sophia is the church of the holy wisdom. These two great buildings are often depicted in photos of Istanbul.
History of the Hagia Sophia.
Throughout time there have been three churches built on the site. The first church was built in and around 300AD during the reign of Constantius II but it was burnt down in riots in the city. The second church built on the site was subsequently burnt and destroyed again in 531AD. The only remains of the second church are some carved reliefs which are on display in a pit at the main entrance of the basilica. They depict the lamb of god and the apostles.
The third church was built in 532 by the Emperor Justinian. He promised to build a church like no other and he certainly achieved that in fact some of the other churches and mosques designs are based on the same design with massive domes. It was here that Coronations took place. Although it was the patriarchal seat of Christian Orthodoxy in Turkey at one period in time it also came under the jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Church.
Several earthquakes and fires caused cracks in the massive structure and the vast dome eventually collapsed. Massive buttresses were added to the structure to give it more strength and stability. The Hagia Sophia was used as a place of worship up to the great invasion by the Ottoman Sultans. People who were unable to fight and try to protect Istanbul from the Muslim invaders sought refuge in the Hagia Sophia but once the city had fallen they were either enslaved or murdered.
In 1453 once Constantinople was in the hands of the Ottomans, Sultan Mehmed allowed his troops to pillage the city and take what they wanted for three days after which he would ride into the city and any other treasures were deemed to be his. He immediately ordered that the church be converted into a mosque. Many Christian artefacts were pillaged but some were smuggled out to other churches around the globe including the stone from the tomb of Jesus, Mary's milk, the shroud of Christ and bones of several Saints who had been buried in the church. The Christian Icons were removed and the mosaics on the walls were desecrated, the eyes of the saints gauged out and their faces destroyed and then the walls were plastered over. The Muslims then installed Arabic writings from the Koran all over the church. There are massive Arabic inscriptions on round plates on each of the Domes supporting pillars. Four minarets were erected and the gold cross on the top of the dome removed and replaced by a brass crescent to signify that it was now a mosque.
The Aya Sophia had been the largest cathedral in the world for a thousand years right up until it was overtaken in size by the cathedral in Barcelona. The Church remained a mosque right up to 1935 until it was closed due to its poor state. The new president of Turkey opened the building to the public but not as a church but as a museum.
Entering the Aya Sophia from the main entrance you walk into a very large and long corridor. In this corridor murals and richly decorated mosaics adorn the walls in gold, blues, reds and marble adding to the decoration of this vast corridor. There are three doors leading into the main church. The middle and largest doorway was for the Sultans use only. Others would have had to enter by the two doors on either side of the Sultans door.
Once through the Sultans doorway the sight that greets you is absolutely breath taking and you would have to see it yourself to believe it. Words cannot describe the beauty; photos do not do it justice either. This vast, massive, enormous cavernous domed church is overwhelmingly gigantic. I have never been in such a massive open space as this. It really takes your breath away and although I hate the word awesome it really is awesome. You feel quite miniscule standing in this beautiful great abyss. This great hall is 250 feet by 220 feet square and dome itself is 180 feet high.
There is a mixture of Christian and Islamic art and furnishings throughout the building. The walls are highly decorated and adorned with golden coloured mosaics and hues of other colours but the overwhelming colours are blue and bright yellow gold. These wonderful mosaics apparently cover an area of 4 acres just to give you an idea of how vast this building is.
The domes too are magnificently decorated and the main supporting arches were painted with angels. Unfortunately only one of the angel's faces is preserved as the others have been ruined by having their faces gauged out. All the Christian symbols and mosaics were plastered over but since the re opening of the museum some very slow and painstaking restoration work has taken place to expose the full beauty of this building.
Looking towards the place where the high altar would have been there is the Mirab which is facing in the direction of Mecca. There is also a marble pavilion on the right of the great hall. Massive chandeliers hang from the ceiling which adds a somewhat mystique to the already beautiful building. There is certainly enough to keep you entertained on the ground floor however on the second tier is where we next headed.
The second tier would have housed the Sultans wife who would have had to walk up a fairly steep and uneven ramp to reach the second tier. It was only on my way down that I fully appreciated how far the trip up had been as I had been eagerly excited to reach the second level so the walk up did not seem so far. Once reaching the second tier the balcony surrounds the whole of the open space below. The Sultana would have sat on the left hand side of the mosque. On the right hand side of the upper tier is where we were heading. There are some intricately carved balconies surrounding the second tier and all the way round the perimeter give superb views of the massive hall below giving a bird's eye view and appreciation of how big the Hagia Sophia really is.
Towards the right side there is a carved marble doorway which was the entrance to Mamuts library and leads you to some very impressive mosaics of Christ and the blessed virgin Mary. They have been painstakingly restored however there of course is some damage to them. The faces luckily on some of them have been preserved quite well under the plaster used to hide them. The best feature is that of the mosaic of Virgin and child which is right over the Mirhab.
After descending the great ramp you are back in the great hallway entrance where you then exit out of the warriors vestibule into a square that contains a very ornate ablutions fountain.
I think that Ataturk was a brilliant leader in as much that he has opened this fabulous building for all of us to enjoy rather than leaving it in a state of near ruin. Over the years it has undergone restoration works so that we can enjoy all that is within this beautiful place. I must admit aesthetically it does not appear as beautiful as the blue mosque from the outside but then it was built many, many years before the blue mosque.
Opening times :
09:00 to 16:30.
Prices for entry are 10 TYL which is about £7 and another 10TYL if you want to go to the upper level.
Although it is no longer a working church or a mosque I still believe that you should have a modicum of decorum so as not to offend others by not wearing revealing clothing.
Would I recommend it?
Of course absolutely I would recommend it is as being one of the most important buildings to see in Istanbul along with the Blue mosque. These two great monuments complement each other greatly.
Summary: Superb in every way.