Saturday, 8 November 2008

Aya Sofia - Millenia of History

First floor gallery in Aya Sofia

On the very top of our to-do-list in Istanbul was a visit to the iconic church-turned-mosque-turned-museum Aya Sofia. It was built by Emperor Justinian and completed in the year 537. It was easily the greatest church in the world, until it was converted to a mosque following Mehmet's conquest of Istanbul. It was then a mosque until Atatürk had it converted to a museum in 1934.

The Aya Sofia's interior is stunning with an enormous unobstructed space with a dome that seems to be unsupported by anything. Even by today's standards it's an engineering marvel. In the 6th century surely the unparalleled the magnificence of this structure must have been seen as direct manifestation of God's greatness.

It would take an extreme wide-angle lens to take a picture of the interior that captures the sense of space. Since I don't have that, I tried instead to stitch together 3 different pictures. They didn't align with each other 100% but I think it's good enough to give a sense of just how big the Aya Sofia is. Following that picture below are som shots of both the inside and outside of Aya Sofia:

The central space of the Aya Sofia in a composite image

A mosaic showing Jesus along with John the Baptist and Virgin mary. It's known as the Deësis mosaic and is believed to be from 1261

Ongoing restauration work means that scaffolding takes up a good part of the old church. Although it would have been nice to see the whole space in its entirety, the scaffolding helps illustrate how tall it is. It's like a 20-story building standing under the dome

Nitoli at the Weeping Column. There's a small hole - if you put in your thumb and it comes out moist it means all your ailments will be healed. Unfortunately it came out dry in this case.

Nitoli admiring a big alabaster urn made out of one single block of marble

The Mihrab - altar showing praying Muslims the direction towards Mecca

I love this. It may look like just a small piece of graffiti. Well, it actually is but what makes it special is that it was carved here by a visitor who had come all the way from Scandinavia and visited the church in the 9th century! His name is Halvdan and he wrote his message in runes, the alphabet of my distant forefathers.

Nitoli and I posing in fron of the beautiful mosaic filled ceiling in the Inner Narthex

Nitoli just outside the entrance of Aya Sofia. In the pit behind her a panel of sheep are the remnants of a Theodosian Church who lay he before the Aya Sofia was built

Aya Sofia seen from the rooftoop of our hotel, the Side Pension & Hotel

A characteristic yellow Istanbul taxi in front of the Aya Sofia

The Aya Sofia seen in all its glory from the Sea of Marmara

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