If you ever get to visit Istanbul you have to make a point of exploring Hagia Sofia, the church-turned-mosque. Not only is it unique in this aspect it is also one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture in Turkey. It is one of those places you will have to visit more than once as it is so overwhelming that you cant take everything in during your first visit.
Although scaffolding cluttered a part of the interior the thrill of experiencing the extraordinary spaciousness of this famous church-turned-mosque-turned museum is hard to overstate. As I walked in I was greeted by the marble pillars and huge decorated domes.
The central dome (which was unfortunately filled with scaffolding) has a diameter of 31 m, which is just slightly smaller than that of the Pantheon in Rome. The dome looks like it is floating upon four great arches which are decorated with seraphim or six-winged angels and other decorative mosaics.
I read that Hagia Sophia is famous for the light that reflects everywhere in the interior of the nave, as its is very bright inside without the need for electric lights. This effect was achieved by inserting forty windows around the base of the original structure.
Most of the interior surfaces are covered with marble, even the floor that you walk on. It is a lovely contrast against the walls which are green and yellow with gold mosaics. Huge parts of Hagia Sophia is decorated in a purely decorative geometric pattern mosaics.
The huge Islamic calligraphic roundels suspended from the main dome also make for a fascinating religious contrast with the uncovered Christian mosaics on the upper part of Hagia Sophia. These gigantic circular-framed disks or medallions are inscribed with the names of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, and the two grandchildren of Mohammed: Hassan and Hussain.
As I walked through Hagia Sophia I could see that most of the sights date from the Islamic period. A beautiful marble structure in the apse is the mihrab, a niche found in all mosques that indicates the direction of Mecca
I just love these beautiful pendant chandeliers that fill the huge interior. Although they are hardly needed for light during the day as light seeps through the countless windows.
The gallery of this magnificent place provides a commanding view of the nave from all sides. It definitely gives the best vantage point from which to view and experience the vastness of this church-mosque.
The Byzantine mosaics are being gradually uncovered, but only those on the higher gallery levels, which can be accessed by stairways. This means that Muslims do not have to confront much Christian imagery in the main chamber of the building, which was a mosque for nearly 500 years and retains all the equipment of a mosque. Unfortunately this part of the gallery was closed due to restoration that day.
Because of its long history as both a church and a mosque, a particular challenge arises in the restoration process. Christian iconographic mosaics can be uncovered, but often at the expense of important and historic Islamic art. Restorers have attempted to maintain a balance between both Christian and Islamic cultures. In particular, much controversy rests upon whether the Islamic calligraphy on the dome of the cathedral should be removed, in order to permit the underlying mosaic of Christ as Master of the World, to be exhibited (assuming the mosaic still exists).