When people learn that I visited Turkey, I am often asked why. Usually it is by people who are either not avid travelers or are not history buffs. Even after I tell them I really only visited Istanbul, it still doesn’t click: Istanbul was once Constantinople. Who wouldn’t want to visit this ancient city which was founded in 330 AD and was once the wealthiest city in the world?!
If Constantinople was the king of all cities than the Hagia Sophia was its crown. The original Hagia Sophia was built in 360, but was rebuilt several times until the 500s when the current structure was created. Since then, the Hagia Sophia has been one of the greatest churches, and later mosques, in the world with mosaics and gold adorning its interior.
The Hagia Sophia was originally built as a Christian church, so there are mosaics of Jesus, Mary and many other notable people from the Bible. In the 1400s Istanbul was conquered by the Ottoman Empire and the church was transformed into a mosque. According to the official Hagia Sophia web site, Muhammad stated that the first muslim to pray in the Hagia Sophia would go straight to paradise, making the Hagia Sophia and Istanbul desirable for the Ottoman Empire. Once Istanbul was obtained by the Ottomans, the Hagia Sophia was officially transformed into a mosque, the Christian mosaics were whitewashed and Islamic relics were installed. Evidence of both Muslim and Christian practices are still prevalent in the Hagia Sophia making it one of the most interesting religious buildings I have visited.
I recently read a book that took place throughout Europe, but a large part of it was in Istanbul, specifically in the Hagia Sophia. It reminded me of how historically significant this amazing building is and what great lengths people went to in order to possess it. Fortunate for us, the Hagia Sophia is still intact today, over 1000 years later.