on June 13, 2004
Hagia or Aya Sophia (Church of the Divine Wisdom) was inaugurated in 537 by Emperor Justinian. It has been a church, a mosque and is now a museum, it has provided inspiration for architects, it has survived earthquakes and periods of unrest and still remains, after nearly 1500 years, a source of awe and wonder to all who see it. The exterior of the building with its somewhat patchy reddish-pink colouring is a bit of a hybrid. Buttresses have been added to support the weight of the dome and minarets were built when the building became a Mosque. I wouldn’t say that it was a graceful exterior but it is certainly impressive.When you first enter the building it may take a while for your eyes to adjust to the muted light of the interior. In front of you is the Imperial Gate, once the exclusive entrance for the Emperor and his entourage. Now the privilege of stepping through the doorway is open to all. And what a privilege! As you enter the nave the first thing to strike you is its sheer size and scale (the dome reaches a height of 54m, 187 ft). It is worth letting your eyes wander up the walls past the half domes and on to the apex of the main dome which seems to float, as if suspended in the air, above the interior space. You may spend so much time staring upwards that you’ll need a neck massage afterwards! The subdued light falling on the remains of the gold decoration imbues the interior with an almost honey-coloured hue. Admittedly the large block of scaffolding reaching up to the dome is rather incongruous but it is amazing how easy it is to ignore, as there is so much else to see. Take time to walk around looking at the Minbar installed in the 16th Century, the Sultan’s Loge installed in the 19th Century and the so-called sweating column (not sure why it’s called that and not sure I want to know!), which is reputed to have healing powers.
A ramp leads up to the gallery where there are the remains of some beautiful mosaics and imagine how the walls would have looked when similar mosaics covered more of them. You can also take a closer look at the 8 huge wooden plaques with calligraphic inscriptions that hang over the nave. The view across the nave itself and the upper walls and dome is fantastic.
Before leaving take a look at the mosaic near the exit. This shows the Emperor Constantine and the Emperor Justinian presenting, respectively, Constantinople and Aya Sofia to the Virgin Mary. Just outside the exit is an exquisite ablutions fountain.
Visiting Aya Sophia is a truly awe-inspiring experience. To stand in the nave and imagine the thousands of people who have visited, admired and, of course, worshipped there promotes an encouraging sense of community and continuityOpening Hours: 9.15am-4.30pm closed Mondays Cost: approx. 8,000,000 Turkish Lira per person
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