Last week I took you inside Istanbul’s famous Blue Mosque, so this week it only seemed appropriate to walk you directly across the main square to the city’s other famous landmark–the Hagia Sophia (also called Saint Sophia in Latin and Ayasofya in Turkish). With a rich history — first a Greek Orthodox church for 916 years, then converted into a mosque for 482 years — the Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum in 1935. It’s one of the most prominent monuments in the world in terms of art and architectural history and rare in its importance to both the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. In fact, many historians have nominated it as the 8th wonder of the world.
You can’t help but linger here to absorb the massive dome, the rich mosaics and marble pillars, the countless chandeliers, and the striking Islamic calligraphic panels. What’s really interesting is to see the mix of religious features due to the Hagia Sophia’s long history and conversion from church to mosque–bells and altars were removed and many of the mosaics plastered over and replaced with Islamic features like the mihrab, minbar and minarets. Today many of the mosaics have been slowly uncovered, but the restoration team is also balancing not destroying all the Islamic art that covered those mosaics in the process. In places the plaster has been left peeling, revealing just a hint of what lies underneath…it kind of adds to the Hagia Sophia’s charm. Scroll through above to see inside!