A Moment of Breathlessness at Hagia Sophia
Ok, I’ll admit it: I wasn’t planning on going to the Old City during my week in Istanbul. It was my second time in Constantinople and I was going to avoid that part of town entirely. Shame, shame on me…I know. While I am aware of the countless important and historic monuments in the Fatih district, my tolerance wavers when it comes to visiting palace after palace, religious building after religious building, and souk after souk. A tour through the Egyptian Spice Bazaar? Um, no thanks. I get enough of that in Cairo (however as luck would have it I ended up checking that out as well).
Regardless of my hesitation in crossing the bridge from Beyoğlu to to Fatih, I did so anyhow as I was determined to check out the Basilica Cistern (post forthcoming) and to take advantage of the fleeting, fantastic weekend weather. After visiting the sunken palace I found myself wandering among all the other tourists thanks to the glow of the late-morning sun. I had time to check out one more “must see” in Fatih and since it would be such a waste to miss out on all the historic and oft-talked about Byzantine and Ottoman-inspired attractions, I bit the bullet, flipped a coin and slipped in line to visit the Church of the Holy Wisdom, otherwise known as Hagia Sophia.
What a fantastic turn of events, if I do say so myself.
Hagia Sophia is wizened chameleon having worn different hats throughout the ages. She’s been a church, a mosque, a church again and now a museum. There’s all sorts of interesting historical information surrounding her establishment and use over the last, oh…1700 years, though the most impressive element – in my opinion – is her architecture. By God she is beautiful.
A UNESCO world heritage site, Hagia Sophia is a religious building that has been revered and attacked, desecrated and renovated by both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Now home to a vast collection of holy relics it hosts a massive dome “considered [to be] the epitome of Byzantine architecture [that] changed the history of architecture” (thanks Wikipedia). The dome isn’t the only architecturally sound part of the building as Sophia shows off rich mosaics, a gaping central nave and an atrium that would melt any Intolerant’s heart.
As one of Turkey’s most significant monuments, I must say: I was impressed. I intended to spend a mere 30 minutes in the museum, but wound up roaming around and bathing in her resplendency for a good hour and a half.
Was it worth it? Of course it was and it was a lesson for this Intolerant that an “oldie” is indeed still a goodie.