As of May 2021, I am migrating most of my travel journals to Daveno Travels where I am reissuing them as Director’s Cuts, with full text and previously unpublished photos. This is an excerpt from my first trip to Istanbul in 2011.
This church-converted-to-mosque is among the oldest religious sites in the world, dating to 537 AD. It is also among the most important examples of Byzantine architecture still standing. It is the third church built on this site after the first two were destroyed by fire during riots in the 5th and 6th centuries. When Constantinople was conquered by the Turks in 1453, the Ayasofya was converted to a mosque. The Ayasofya was converted to a museum during President Ataturk’s administration.
I enter the Ayasofya through a hallway with ceilings that reminded me of the ones outside the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. Even though this is no longer a mosque, I cover my head and remove my shoes within a few feet of the entrance because it feels wrong not to do so.
Once inside, there’s a lot to take in…
The dome would inspire one of the hats I would create upon my return home.
There was beautiful fretwork on a 16th century minbar (pulpit) which was repeated in some of the upper galleries where I presume the women or the royal family prayed.
I am surprised to find stained glass here, and learn that much of it is recycled, I presume from other buildings in Turkey. The church was looted during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. During the sacking of Constantinople, many pieces from the Ayasofya were redistributed to churches in the West. I actually saw some of these pieces in the Doges Palace in Venice. Historians at the time recorded that “compared to the Crusaders, Arabians are more compassionate…”
I was also smitten with the oil lamps (now electrified) and wanted to find one to bring home, though I never did. I was also surprised to find a sultan’s library here, built in 1739.
I exit the building, and recognize flying buttresses, installed to correct the dome when it started to lean. There’s a grassed in courtyard around the foundation of the Second Ayasofya, which was destroyed by fire in 532. The current Ayasofya is the third building to be raised on this site. I note what appear to be stone sarcophagi in the courtyard – a courtyard under the watchful eye of a tabby in repose among the blooms in an elevated garden.
No trip to Istanbul is complete without at least one daily photo of the street and shop cats, who are well cared for here…