Initially a church, then a mosque, Hagia Sophia is now a museum in Istanbul. Hagia Sophia means ‘divine power’, and it’s truly one of the most stunning architectural creations I have ever stepped foot in. The original church was built in the year 360, but the current structure was built in 537. It’s incredible to know that a building so beautiful has been standing for nearly 1500 years. It was a cathedral until Sultan Mehmed II converted it into a mosque in 1453. It is absolutely fascinating to note the mixture of Christian and Muslim details in one space. The mihrab (which indicates the direction of Mecca) is off-center on its designated wall, clearly an addition. I met a security guard on the upper level that spoke very broken English, and through lots of decoding, I learned a lot of information from him. Concrete panels that once had crosses for decoration, have been partially rubbed away. Ornate columns were shaved down to be plain columns. Large round decorations bearing Arabic inscriptions of the words God, Muhammed, and other important figures in Islam have been added. Many of the light fixtures have been replaced with electrical ones, but if one looks closely, they can find the old candle chandeliers scattered along the upper level. All of the little details left me standing in awe of this structure that truly represents the larger picture of Istanbul- a fascinating city where East meets West, Christianity mingles with Islam, and a magnificent melting pot of peoples and cultures exist.
The church is also known as Ayasofya and St. Sophia
It is open everyday, except Mondays, from 9:30am to 4:30pm
The entrance fee is 20 Turkish lira (about $11)