The historic and beautiful city of Istanbul attracted millions of tourists each year and was once craved by empires across the centuries. Istanbul is the only city in the world that lies between the two continents of Asia and Europe and has therefore become one of the world’s greatest metropolises. With a unique location, Istanbul is a melting pot of Western and Eastern cultures, which is visible in its architecture, customs, and even food.
The city is filled with glorious remnants and illustrious history, which even impresses monument-weary visitors. A haven for shopaholics is the historic market of Grand Bazaar, as it is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. Shop till you drop, as shops here sell everything from carpets to spices and even jewelry.
Cruise the Bosphorus Strait, as it is a great way to see the city from a totally different perspective and get a view of the luxurious waterfront palaces and mansions that line the shore. Turkish Baths are both traditional and an important part of Turkish culture. These baths are gender segregated and include a massage area, sauna, and steam room.
Galata Tower offers panoramic views of Istanbul and the Bosphorus. Hard to miss is the spellbinding example of Byzantine architecture, Hagia Sophia, which has adorned the roles of a cathedral, a mosque, and a museum, making it Istanbul’s biggest attraction.
Hagia Sophia ( Aya Sofya)
Hagia Sophia (which means holy Wisdom in Greek), which is officially known as Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque, is a major cultural and historical site in Istanbul, Turkey. It is the last of the three church buildings to be erected successively on the site by the Eastern Roman Empire.
As it was constructed between 532 and 537, Hagia Sophia is a symbolic representation of Byzantine architecture and art. It transformed from being a principal church of the Byzantine Empire in its capital of Constantinople, present-day Istanbul, to a mosque after the Ottoman Empire conquered the city in 1453. By 1934, the Turkish government had established Aya Sofya as a museum, which was like a repository and was not confined to one particular religion or people. But recently, the decision was annulled, and the building was again transformed into a mosque.
Distinctive Features of Hagia Sophia
The Hagia Sophia Guided Tour takes you through this architectural marvel, which boasts its Byzantine architecture, elaborate mosaics, and religious importance to Christians and Muslims.
Architecture– The Hagia Sophia Church has undergone many regimes and has also suffered severe damage due to earthquakes, neglect, and riots. The present structure we witness has transformed since its initial construction as a major renovation was carried out in the tenth century by Emperor Basil ii as he restored the collapsed dome and installed four murals of cherubim, a new representation of Christ on the vault, and a new representation of the Virgin Mary cradling Jesus.
Justinian I, the ruler who was behind the final reconstruction, used marble to make the floor, which was specially brought from Anatolia, and bricks from North Africa.
Dome- With the Hagia Sophia Guided Tour, witness the iconic Hagia Sophia Dome. It can be easily spotted from a distance and has a diameter of around thirty-one meters. There is only one main dome here. As the visitors enter Hagia Sophia, they are right under the main dome.
After various restoration projects, the dome is now around 175 feet above the ground. It is supported by an interesting architectural feature where the Four Pendentives ( supporting arches) uphold the dome and represent the four sides of the rectilinear room.
Minarets- The minarets were an Ottoman addition and were not part of the original Byzantine church. The minaret on the southeast corner was built with red bricks and dates to the reign of Mehmed or his successor, Beyazid II.
The rest of the three were constructed with white limestone and sandstone, of which Bayezid II erected the slender northeast column, and two larger identical minarets on the west were erected by Selim II. There are four minarets, which were commissioned by different sultans who wanted to make sure the world knew their contribution.
Geometric Icon: Omphalion-Much of the marble flooring in the Hagia Sophia is covered with carpet, as this happened when the government converted the building to a mosque. But one uncovered part is the Omphalion, which is an 18.5-foot square decorative marble that is inserted in the floor of the building and consists of thirty circles of various sizes. The central circle is surrounded by others, making it a fascinating feat of geometry.
Historic Sultan’s Tomb- When visitors approach the exterior of Hagia Sophia, they notice there is more to the complex than the main building. Around the Corner is an exceptional example of Ottoman architecture. It has a separate entrance, and along the side are the tombs of the five Ottoman Sultans and their families from the 16th to mid centuries.
The Monolithic Columns-Witness the Monolithic Columns with the Hagia Sophia Guided Tour, as it is believed that different architects and designers constructed the columns from different marbles in different styles. One belief even holds that some of the columns came from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus after the conflicts were destroyed in the late fourth century AD.
The Wishing Column-The most famous column at the Hagia Sophia is the Wishing Column. It is also known as the Weeping Column, which is located in the northwest part of the building. People gather in front of it throughout the day to make a wish. There are some superstitions here, too, according to which the column symbolizes the tears of the Virgin Mary, but the wet column is due to the condensation that gathers on the surface. The name is suggestive because of its purpose, as it is believed to fulfill your wish to put your thumb into the hole and fully rotate your hand.
The Imposing Imperial Gate -After entering the building, there are multiple ways to access the inner sanctum. The Hagia Sofia Guided Tour takes you to the most popular access location, located in the Narthex of Hagia Sophia. There is a set of three tall, standing doors made of oak hung on a bronze frame. The larger Central door is known as the Imperial Door, as according to historical sources, only the Emperor and his entourage used it to enter. At seven meters tall, it is the largest door, and according to Byzantine sources, the wood used was derived from Noah’s Ark.
Mosaics of Jesus, Constantine, and Empress Zoe- Each mosaic at the Hagia Sophia is an awe-inspiring sight and a wonder in itself. Located on the southern gallery‘s eastern wall is the mosaic of Empress Zoe, which depicts Christ flanked by Constantine IX Monomachus and Byzantine Empress Zoe. It is interesting to note that Byzantine artists reused early mosaics and replaced the faces and inscriptions, leaving the bodies of the figures untouched. As the Ottomans converted Hagia Sophia into a mosque, they plastered over the mosaics and hid them. Since the Hagia Sophia originally functioned as a church,h there are several Christian symbols throughout.
One such repeated symbol is that of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child, dating back to the tenth century. Over the south door in the vestibule of Hagia Sophia is a mosaic with Mary and the Child flanked by Emperor Justinian to the left and Emperor Constantine to the right. If properly pointed out, they are gifting a representation of their significant accomplishments to Mary and Christ. Justinian gave them a model Sophia, Gia Sophia, and Constantine of ferocity, his city Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul.
Mosaic Of The Virgin and Child in the Apse-The apse is located on the eastern end of the building, and right in the center of the apse is one of the most famous mosaics of the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia Guided Tour points towards this well-preserved mosaic, which showcases the Virgin Mary on a jeweled throne with the Child Christ in her lap. If one looks carefully, one can see the archangels Gabriel and Michael standing beneath the panels around the semi-dome.
Ancient Norse Graffiti-Scholars have discovered two Norse runic inscriptions on the marble walls of the Hagia Sophia. These inscriptions date back to the times when the Byzantine Empire hired Viking mercenaries at the beginning of the ninth century. The inscription is engraved on the top floor of the southern gallery and is a bit difficult to find. Though it is so small, it is such a treasure to find. The Nordic linguist Elisabeth Svardstrom translated the text as “Halfdan Carved these runes, which means “Hafdan was here”. The transparent plastic slab protects this inscription.