In a Google review Patti said, “I went to Istanbul with a group from Yale and as an architect, I was staggered by Hagia Sophia. Fortunately, I was able to go back alone and experience the space with no one else in it. The only sound was the whoos-whoos of the pigeons inside and I stood there hearing in my mind the rush of history and expecting the huns to come crashing thro the doors any minute.. Surely Hagia Sophia is one of the few great buildings in the world and I am so happy to have been in it.” This is elegantly said and, even though I’m not an architect, I too was staggered by this ages-old building in Istanbul. But I wasn’t aware of the pigeons so much as the cats, especially the one seeking the warmth of an intense light on the floor of the massive altar area.
If you go, prepare to wait in a long line to get in and crowds and souvenir sellers throughout. I was surprised at the number of Muslim women who lined up to have their photos taken with pictures of mosaics depicting Christ, Mary, and other Western religious icons. If you go in winter, wear a heavy coat. If you go at any time, arrive as early as possible in the day and expect to be awed. If you have time, watch the fairly long, scholarly film called “The Sacred Wisdom” in the vestibule before entering. It will give you history and explain in a torrent of detail the importance of Hagia Sophia.
Hagia Sophia is in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet area among this city’s most important monuments like Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque. There are very few buildings of this age in the world. In that regard, it reminded me of Rome’s Pantheon. The first church built on this site was dedicated by the Roman Emperor Constantine in 360 AD, but a riot in 404 completely destroyed it. Construction began 11 years later on a replacement. It burned down. Emperor Justinianus I had the domed basilica that visitors enter today built by 10,000 unskilled workmen who moved stones from all over the Roman Empire into place and 1,600 master artisans. It was both a Catholic and Eastern Orthodox cathedral between 537 and 1453 when Sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople and turned it into a mosque for more than 500 years. In 1935 Turkey’s George Washington, Mustafa Kemel Atatürk, made it a museum, which it remains today.
During the Byzantine Era that followed the Roman, only emperors were allowed to pass throughout the Imperial Gate, now the public entrance, into Hagia Sophia’s soaring grandeur. Part of its original decorations remain. So will your appreciation of this must-see, 5 Compass architectural wonder.