Turkey is one of those countries which has changed identity and cultures so many times that it has turned into a unique country with a unique culture. I couldn’t wait to explore this culture rich country and there is no better place to start than in Istanbul, once named Constantinople.
After checking into my hotel in the old quarter I immediately found my way over to the Byzantine masterpiece, Hagia Sophia.
It is quite sad that nothing remains of the original Hagia Sophia which was built in the fourth century by Constantine the Great. It was burned down in 532 and then rebuilt between 532 and 537. For over 900 years this Cathedral was the seat of the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople until it was ruthlessly attacked, desecrated and plundered by the Crusaders in 1204. Despite this violent setback, Hagia Sophia remained a functioning church until May 29, 1453, when Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror entered the city of Constantinople and converted it into his imperial mosque.
Pieces of what remains of the Cathedral decoration can be found in the courtyard of the Hagia Sofia as well as the Islamic fountain for ritual ablutions.
Stone remains of the basilica ordered by Theodosius II, showing the Lamb of God
Hagia Sophia then served as the principal mosque of Istanbul for almost 500 years. At some point, all the faces depicted in the church’s mosaics were covered in plaster due to the Islamic prohibition of figurative imagery. These mosaics were discovered during restoration between 1847-49. They straightened columns, revised the decorations and also added the huge calligraphic roundels.
In 1934 the prayer rugs were removed and Hagia Sofia was turned into the Ayasofya Museum. After walking around the building I couldn’t wait to enter and explore the interior.