Yes, Hagia Sofia in Istanbul is a grand touristic cliché; but this is one of those clichés that you really have to follow. The reason for it is that it is not just an ordinary sight. It’s an experience! No one can ever prepare you for this! Entering this magnificent building you literally find yourself breathless from the vast space and the beauty of it even if you don’t know a thing about the monument’s history. The experience becomes even more powerful when you realize that this church is actually 1500 years-old, it has seen the rise and fall of two glorious empires (Byzantine and Ottoman), became the principal religious site of two religions (Christianity and Islam) and still stands there waiting for the next adventure of human history.
View from the main entrance © cityartnow.com
Feel free to explore every single corner of the church and experience the majestic presence of history from every angle. After visiting the ground floor you can find your way towards the upper part of the church; the part where women traditionally attended mass. The “road” that leads to the upper-floor is an actual street; a covered spiral street to accomodate the empresses and the members of the nobility who were ascending by horse-drawn vehicles. Entering the upper gallery you can admire the beautiful mosaics at the end of the hall. Search for the Empress Zoe mosaics, depicting Zoe and her third husband Constantine, which has an intriguing history; every time Zoe married a new husband the head of the previous one was scraped off and the head of the new husband replaced it. Also, in a corner of the East gallery, you can spot the tomb of Venetian Doge Enrico Dandolo; a tomb that is referred as one of the keys to the mystery of Dan Brown’s (not that exciting) latest book, Inferno.
The dome seen from the ground floor © cityartnow.com
View from the upper gallery © cityartnow.com
There are dozens of interesting things to spot inside the basilica; artifacts dating from antiquity (such as the urns from Pergamon) to the Ottoman era. But the most interesting is to try to experience the beauty of the building itself. The way the light is filtered through the windows of the dome and the effect that it has over the architectural elements and the enormous scale (smaller in comparison with e.g. St Peter’s in Rome but much more understandable in its vastness).
View from the square © cityartnow.com
Mausoleum of Sultan Mehmed II © cityartnow.com
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