On The Hagia Sophia

Istanbul, Turkey

This is the day. When we siege the Hagia Sophia.

From the rooftop of our Pension i’m fixated on the pink-ochre minarets visible just over the rooftops of our neighbors. All the while, stuffing my face on the complimentary hard-boiled egg and melon breakfast, desperate to get into the museum before the rush of crowds.

Jaclyn by my side, we hit the streets working our way through narrow alleys carrying the fervor of pious history buffs hot on the trail of an ancient wonder.

Within moments the Hagia Sophia reveals itself to us. A testament to the power of faith where the glory of Islam and Christianity are in bloom together. Where else can you witness such universality? After drooling over the architecture from afar we make the first move in courting this manmade wonder.

For being 1,476 years old, the Hagia Sophia is looking good. It’s the Eiffel tower of Asia Minor with the significance of the Statue of Liberty.

Despite the tranquility the sight conjures, under those gilded domes, Sophia has seen some pretty grim action, something like a century of bloodshed. Yet, in times of peace, even Scrooge McDuck would have been awed. Gold, guns, and girls. Or something like that.

I have a hell of a time wrapping my head around the complexities of Sophia’s past, so i’m going to start from the beginning; one thousand four hundred and seventy-six years ago.

532 AD (february 23rd, to be very specific)- Byzantine Emperor Justinian I orders the construction of the Hagia Sophia, on the very same plot of land which had just witnessed the destruction of it’s second church.

The site thrived for 916 years before Mehmed the Conqueror… conquered Constantinople converting Sophia into a mosque and thrusting the Ottoman Empire into the boots of a world power. Much of the basilica we see today comes from this period, such as the minarets, which were installed between 1481 and 1849. Due to a fault line in the region, Sophia has been subject to cave-ins, needing crucial repair every few hundred years.

Almost 500 years later, Sophia became the subject of the beloved Ataturk, who’s mission it was to set Turkey on a secular path. Thus, in 1935, the basilica gone mosque underwent another transition, this time into a museum; preserving every aspect of Sophia while respecting Muslim and Christian sentiments.

And here we are, it’s 2013, with our museum passes in hand, entering the 1,476 year old house of worship.

Need I reiterate- It’s OK to drool.

Sigh in awe. “Awe”

Imagine the powerful verve that must have been as the Muezzin called out in prayer and the Imam stepped in.

The central dome, reaching 55.6 m above the museum floor.

The Central Dome happens to have been the first of it’s kind, secured by what are now called pendentives. Like inverted triangles they serve to support a mass of weight. The four pendentives of the Central Dome were decorated with six-winged Cherubs that the Ottomans later defaced. If you look closely, the Cherub on the left has been restored to it’s original form, while the Cherub on the right, not so lucky!

Recessed into the dome in, golden lettering, is the 35th verse of the Quran. The Ayat an-Nur or “Sign of Light”.

The illusion of time ceases to be a burden when you’re under the great dome in a mass of people who have all come to pay their respects.

hagia sofia4
An overview from the second floor.

From every angle light refracts light in trance inducing waves. Master craftsmen applied “state of the art” methods in engineering and mathematics taking no centimeter for granted.

IMG_2599These massive calligraphy panes hang with a diameter of 7.5 meters. Of gold and hemp they call the great names of Allah, Mohammed, and five other significant individuals from the Quran.


Virgin and Child, this mosaic survives from March 29th 867, believe it! One of the earliest figural decorations found in the site.

Buried behind the plaster, many Christian mosaics lay dormant. Whether they’ll see the light of day is up for debate, as that would come at the cost of destroying other art just as valuable.

While the Hagia Sophia could supply several entries, this is where I must sign off. Looking forward to another visit in the future we bid farewell to the museum that thought it was a mosque that was actually a church in the grand city of Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, formerly known as Byzantium…

Our world is full of beautiful creations, man-made and organic. With only so much time i’m thankful that we have platforms such as WordPress to share our stories. So don’t hesitate to leave any feedback or shoot me a link to your adventures.



25 thoughts on “On The Hagia Sophia

  1. One of my absolute favorites that I have seen. I really enjoyed visiting the Hagia Sophia and was in much awe like yourself. I’d love to see it again someday. Thanks for sharing!


  2. Pleased to see that the scaffolding is now out of the interior. I recollect when there some years ago that everywhere you stood and looked, it was like a whole new experience. We spent hours in their just looking.


  3. Great post… And one of the most fascinating churches, turned mosque, turned museum in the world. I look forward to reading more of your posts.


  4. Excellent photos. I vaguely remember visiting this place back in 1976, but don’t remember the interior at all, so it was lovely to re-visit through your writing & images.


  5. Thank you for stopping by my blog, and WOW! I was also in awe.. the calligraphy, the lighting and the dome! its beautiful. thanks for sharing.


    1. Haha, this is fantastic! It’s my mission to get people up and out. To expose them to foreign concepts and locales abroad, especially in the Middle East. If you’re ever looking to chat archaeology/history or travel don’t hesitate to shoot me a message.


  6. Never been here but normally the photographs I have seen are just those from the outside. This is the first time I see the interior of Hagia Sophia, and I am impressed. Such beauty man! ;D


    1. Ah! This is the ideal response! I’m very happy to have been able to show you a different angle. Istanbul has so many vantage points, it would take a lifetime to view them all. Hagia Sophia in particular is mind blowing though. The thought of what may be hiding behind all that plaster is enough to drive a historian wild.


      1. Yeah. I lovr history and have been to several World Heritage Sites. N as the Hagia Sophia has a long history, I always wondering, how it looks like on the inside. And thanks to you, my curiosity has been answered. 🙂


  7. Spectacular! It’s always been a dream of mine so thank you for the attention to detail. 🙂
    Such an interesting mix when you consider that Muslim art does not permit the use of images but only patterns.


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