Today we visited Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The grownups were blown away by their magnificence, the children less so … …
This time we took care to arrive early and hired a guide, partly to fast-track the queues.
Hagia Sophia is an intriguing mix of church and mosque, the decoration and functionality of the two eras now completely intertwined.
It was originally a church, built in the sixth century. We started the tour under gigantic arches which made me think of the Colysseum in Rome. Then, through gloriously decorated inner colonnades we were first taken to the upper galleries, where we were shown some splendid Byzantine mosaic scenes, many either covered over in the later Islamic period or the faces blanked out. Out of the windows we caught enchanting glimpses of the Blue Mosque, and through the arches into the church/mosque, even more breathtaking glimpses of the main nave, which we then went down to visit.
The sheer size, with its gigantic central dome is a tribute to the engineering skill of its (Greek) architects.Following the 15th century Ottoman conquest of the city, the church became a mosque, with appropriate modifications. A Nihrab was added (just off centre, in order to face Mecca) and outside, of course, four minarets.
As we walked across towards the Blue Mosque, we looked back, taking yet more photos. I must say that before coming I had never heard of Hagia Sophia. Now I know it is a jewel equal to the Blue Mosque.
Once within the precincts of the Blue Mosque, I put on my headscarf. Jude was provided with headscarf, another to cover her shoulders and a skirt to cover her immodestly short dress! The girls were delighted to be able to dress up with headscarves also.
The Blue Mosque, or rather the Sultanahmet Camil, is breathtaking : huge domes and half domes supported by four enormous columns, and everything covered by the most beautiful hand decorated tiles – 20000 of them. The wow factor when entering was almost as much as when I saw the Taj Mahal.
We completed our visit to the wonders of Sultanahmet by going underground, for a tour of the Basilica Cistern, built by Constantine. The Romans were always good at plumbing, and this complex was designed to hold 80,000 cubic metres of water. It is architecturally impressive, with 336 columns built in rows, nowadays atmospherically illuminated .