Sunday Travel Adventures – " Istanbul, Turkey and the Hagia (Aya) Sophia"
My thoughts on Istanbul, Turkey and the Hagia (Aya) Sophia
By Cacinda Maloney
For so many years, I have wanted to go to Istanbul. I never really had an idea about what it would be like, but knew that it was a right dab in the middle of the East and the West. Straddling both Europe and Asia, making it the only city in the world to sit across two continents. Somehow, Istanbul has managed to retain its character through centuries of successive change.
The sights and sounds that are Istanbul are so difficult to explain, as I tried to thru my Journey thru the Streets of Istanbul photographs. At first, I was so overwhelmed with the mass difference from the USA that I had a hard time describing my emotions and thoughts about this place. It has taken me awhile to get them into words. When you visit, there are the “must see sights”. But the one thing that struck a chord with me more than any other place I visited was the Chora Church. Maybe it is because I am Christian and I was in a Muslim world and everything was so starkly different that what I am used to.
But I have to tell you, as a Christian, there was no other place that was more mesmerizing thanChora Church. Just the taxi ride from our hotel on the Bosphorus to the Chora Church made my mind wander and left my fingers clicking every other second on my camera, as there was a photo opportunity around every corner.
Sometimes, I feel like I could take that ride over and over again and never really describe the cab ride up the mountain to Chora. Upon arrival, I was almost questioning as to whether or not this was really the place, as it didn’t seem like it could be something spectacular. Nothing could have been further from the truth. It was the highlight of the trip for me. Of course I enjoyed the vendors of traditional ceramics, art and Turkish souvenirs before the entry, but the exterior did not reveal as to the magnificent interior gem inside. I was stunned upon entry, as this was no ordinary church. I was utterly speechless, so make sure on your trip to Istanbul you don’t miss this place.
But while in Istanbul, there are other places not to miss: the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, the Chora Church, Galata Tower and Bridge, and the Basilica Cistern.
The Hagia Sophia (Greek) or Aya Sofia (Turkish), is a former Byzantine church that became a mosque in Ottoman times and became a museum in 1935. This former church, later mosque, now museum turns 1,476 years old in 2013!
Once you are inside, don’t rush to walk through the large bronze doors, which offer glimpses of the interior, but linger in the passage way.
The entrance known as the Imperial Gate, was the entrance used only by the emperors. Above it, is the Imperial Gate Mosaics dating from the 9th or 10th century. Look closely at the image above the door, it depicts the emperor of the time bowing down before Jesus Christ.
At the ground level, most things have an Islamic background. In the apse of the mihrab (semi circular niche in an Islamic building) is a marble structure indicating the direction of Mecca. At the upper level there are many Christian sights, like a mosaic of the Virgin and Child, and so it is quite a contradiction and yet a joining of religions and cultures. I was even more amazed to notice that the Mecca-pointing Mihrab was nestled just off center from the orientation of the Christian apse itself.
In the world we live in today, with so much focus on ideological contrast and conflict, the two juxtapositions against each other was mesmerizing, as we each stood there in awe, Christians and Muslims together, staring at its beauty.
The Hagia Sophia was actually constructed in 3 phases (beginning in 360 A.D.) and the structure that you see today was completed in 537 A.D. It was a Greek church, in what was then the new capital of the Roman Empire.
When the Ottoman army conquered Constantinople in 1453, the building was quickly converted into a mosque. That helped to serve a goal – to place the firm stamp of Islam upon the city without completely disenfranchising the majority Christian population of Istanbul at the time; while preserving one of the world’s architectural wonders.
The Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in the world for hundreds of years and today the museum is Istanbul’s second most visited site. (Topkapi Palace is first, but honestly, if pressed for time go with the Hagia Sophia.)
You can visit all days of the week except Monday’s and the entrance fee is 25 Turkish lira (~$14).
I recommend taking your time to wander around this area which has seen the passing of 3 intercontinental empires, a world war, and the birth of the world’s first secular and democratic Muslim-majority nation.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Dr. Cindy Maloney is a long time world traveler who has visited 33 countries and still has a zest for more. She was given advice some 18 years ago from a trainer she hired for her clinic that was similar to the medicine man from Bali in Eat, Pray, Love . He gave her the advice that she wanted to hear. “If you are going to work this hard and so many hours, you will need to take a vacation every 6 weeks of your life, or you are going to get burned out.” As so she did! She focuses on trip reports that include value luxury ideals for families/couples, great places to go and things to do, plus smokin’ deals from airfare wars, to mistake airfares, to teaching you the points and miles games she plays. Her motto is “Stop being so destination specific; let the miles take you where they want to go!”