It’s hard to know what to say about Aya Sofya, or Hagia Sophia. If you’ve been there you’ll understand; if not, hopefully the pictures will help explain somewhat. Everything about Aya Sofya is incredible and I found it no less impressive on my second visit. In fact it was quite exciting to see it again, especially as when I was there in 2010 scaffolding hid much of the interior. I was once again staring in awe at the magical dome that appears to float above the basilica.
Hagia Sophia was built in the reign of the Emperor Justinian I and it remained the centre of Eastern Christianity for centuries. Justinian I was said to have been so pleased with the basilica that he proclaimed he’d outdone even Solomon in the magnificence of the religious edifice he constructed. The current structure – the third church built on the site – was inaugurated in 537 CE, which means it’s been standing there for almost 1500 years. It seems crazy.
The basilica was used as an Eastern Orthodox church, then a Roman Catholic church, then again an Eastern Orthodox church and then a mosque, following the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in the fifteenth century. In 1935, Ataturk secularised the building and it became a museum. It’s remained so ever since, and if anyone has managed to visit Aya Sofya without hordes of tourists [even in January it’s busy!] I’d be surprised.
So, because I’m exhausted, I’m cheating and hoping that my pictures will do Aya Sofya some kind of justice. I don’t think any photograph could truly capture the atmosphere in there – nor how jaws tend to hit the floor upon entering.
I didn’t put up any pictures of the mosaics, as they’re hard to photograph and my pictures were very average. It’s hard to get a good shot given the angle of the mosaics, and the number of people there. I was really glad that there were guards telling people off for using the flash – it’s not like you can miss the ‘no flash’ signs everywhere and it damages the mosaics.
We decided to buy a Museum Card to cover a number of the main sights in Istanbul, and as it turned out the line was a lot slower than the normal ticket line. Waiting for almost an hour, I could hear ‘Your call is important to us. Your call is important to us’ rolling through my brain. However, we met a lovely Turkish woman in the line in front of us who was there with her cousin and her son, and we got chatting with them. The little boy was ten, and was learning English at school and was very excited to practice what he could. He just loved Mum – she’s great with kids, much better than I am – and by the end was jumping up and down begging his mum to take him to Australia. We got his address to send him a postcard from home.