This post is part 2 of 17 of my trip to Istanbul. The series intends to give more than just a I-saw-this-and-did-that review. It aims to share the voice inside my head as I explore a world I’ve only read in books.
Rick Steves said that Lady Liberty could do jumping jacks inside the Hagia Sophia. That’s how big it is. Even though the church-turned-mosque-turned-museum is currently under construction, it sits majestically at almost 1,500 years old. Its beauty is timeless.
The Hagia Sophia is just as architecturally impressive now as it was back then. In 1453, Constantinople, now Istanbul, was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. Everything was destroyed and burned to the ground. But Sultan Mehmed II was so enamored by the Hagia Sophia that ordered it to be turned it into a mosque.
During the building’s conversion from church to mosque, many of the mosaics were covered because Islam disapproves of representational depictions. The church’s altar, bells, iconic images and sacrificial vessels were replaced with Islamic features like the mihrab, the minbar, and minarets.
After being burnt down twice, the Hagia Sophia was rebuilt by Emperor Justinian and is now entirely fireproof. Inside, there are eight huge circular wooden boards. Each one has the name of Allah, the prophet Muhammad, the first four caliphs Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali, and the two grandchildren of Mohammed, Hassan and Hussain, written on it.
The most interesting, and probably the most unsanitary, thing I came across was the Wish Column, aka the Sweating Column. I watched each tourist stick their thumb into the designated hole and turned their palm 360 degrees to make a wish. It is the only item in the Hagia Sophia that allows visitors to touch. Touching any of the mosaics, on the other hand, will cause a surround sound eruption of “No touch! No touch! No touch!” from security guards in all directions.
The Hagia Sophia is grand in size but it’s no exception to the masses and tour groups that flood the building. They all seem to be armed with cameras and ready to shoot. As usual, with any tourist attraction, the weekend is war. Every other day is fair game. Just don’t go on Mondays. It’s closed.