Hagia Sophia - where Faiths Converge
For years, Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia is the English translation) has been on top of my bucketlist. I can still remember my teenage self at school, learning about the colossal Ottoman Empire and the minaret-sprinkled skyline of Istanbul. Being both a bookworm and history geek, visions of grand ships passing through the Bosphorus would always come to mind, with their captains spotting the minarets of Aya Sofya and knowing they had made it back home. That's how I felt when I found my way to Sultanahmet - I'd arrived.
Aya Sofya is not just a beautiful mosque. Over the centuries, it has served as a Greek Orthodox Basilica, a Roman Catholic Church, a mosque, and finally, a national museum. It has been rebuilt three times, the previous structures being burnt down during bloody revolutions. However, a keen observer will see traces of its history all over its mosaic and fresco-ed walls, making the building a unique meeting place of faiths which are so often at loggerheads.
Upon entering through the main entrance, the sheer size of the place left me breathless. From its golden domes to the tiles beneath my feet, everything is adorned in ancient script or designs. The sunlight from the stained glass windows made the golden murals come to life, as visitors milled by in awe.
A lovely passageway greets you at the top, together with a stunning view of the people below you. The mosaics are suddenly closer, and the windows provide beautiful panoramas. It was an effort to tear myself away from the beauty inside though!
Back outside, Aya Sofya still impresses. Remains from the previous structures and grand fountains adorn the perimeter, as you wish you could visit it all over again! But more adventures await, so you step outside, map in hand, and leave the iconic monument behind. It will remain there, signalling to seafarers long after we have become dust.
You can visit Aya Sofya every day except on Mondays, at a fee. For exact visiting times and fees check out the official website here.