Peace will come when tolerance is reached; and Istanbul, Turkey, is at the forefront of the global tolerance movement. The city blends together cultures and religions from around the world, living in harmony. A perfect symbol of this mixture is Hagia Sophia. Originally, it served as the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years. Considered to be the epitome of Byzantine architecture, Hagia Sophia was embellished with mosaics of Christian symbols such as angels, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus. When the Ottoman Empire took over, it was converted into a mosque, adorned with minarets and Arabic writings, acting as a template for other Ottoman mosques.
Currently, Hagia Sophia is a museum, welcoming visitors from all around the world, representing the integration of Islam and Christianity in Istanbul. Religious practices in this city are far different from those in the United States; Muslims freely pray in churches and Christians freely pray in mosques. This is experienced when entering Hagia Sophia, where both Islamic and Christian symbols are observed and respected. Although Hagia Sophia is visually aesthetic, it holds a much deeper beauty, representing tolerance and future peace between religions.
By AFAR Traveler
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Exploring Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is a must when visiting this ancient city. Once a byzantine church, then a mosque, and now a museum, this building is full of beautiful layers. If you visit here, allow yourself at least an hour if not longer.
first night in Istanbul, summer breeze cool and uplifting, local beer in hand - cold, delicate on the palate - food ordered... the sun setting, casting shades of peach and blue and glowing shadows across Hagia Sophia. I felt like I could reach out and pet Her.
If you want to get off the beaten path in Turkiye, especially in a city like Istanbul, I think the best way is to just wander until you get somewhat lost. There's really nowhere too unsafe in Istanbul, especially in the European side....but if you really want to see the real Istanbul, and the "real Turkiye," you need to get away from thosse tourist attractions near Ayasofia and Sultanahmet, and honestly, wandering around is a great way to do this.
The structure was originally built as a Christian church and was converted to a mosque in the 15th century. This photo was taken for the upstairs gallery where one can truly appreciate the spacious interior and grand domed ceilings.
As I wandered the streets near the Aya Sofya in Istanbul, I came upon this cat sleeping on top of some carpets in an open air shop. I loved the colors surrounding the cat, so vibrant, while this cat tried to catch some z's. Of course, I interrupted her nap, but got this great image. Istanbul is really a feast for the senses. The sites of beautiful mosques, women in headscarfs, men with prayer beads, shops with colorful carpets. The sounds of the call to prayer, people chatting in Turkish, cars and motorbikes zooming all over the place. The smells of fresh flowers, roasting chestnuts and all the delicious food! The tastes of baklava, fresh fish, Turkish tea (çay) and Turkish meze. The feel of the rough carpet on your fingers, the soft fur of a stray cat, the worn carpet of a mosque on your sock feet. A very special place.
I'm not particularly tall, so when I travel, I like to find things that I wouldn't otherwise see. To do this, I usually stick my arm out of random windows, point, and shoot. Most of the time I end up taking pictures of walls or rooftops, but sometimes, I get to uncover little secrets hiding just beyond the window sill.
Aya Sofya/Haghia Sophia might be on every tourist's agenda in Istanbul, but that shouldn't be a deterrent to even the most crowd-phobic seekers of unbeaten tracks. Its age, its history and its sheer beauty and architectural genius make it a marvel that's so engrossing that you might not notice is someone is right next to you, staring up at the same glowing, centuries-old mosaic.
As ubiquitous in Istanbul as offers of tea, entreaties to visit a cousin's carpet shop and nazar boncuğu are the city's cats, many of them looking surprisingly well-fed. This one was just watching the gawping visitors meandering around Aya Sofya.
In Istanbul, the Blue Mosque takes the prize for most attractive from the outside, but the expansive inside of Hagia Sophia wins over a traveler like me. Every hall is golden and lit perfectly that it's a surprise visitors don't bump into one another while trying to capture all the details of Sophia with their cameras snapping away.
Just amazing, especially considering Hagia Sophia's history. It has been an important monument, both for Byzantine and for Ottoman Empires. Once a church, later a mosque, and now a museum at the Turkish Republic, this is where the pope crowned Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor in 800.
Golden mosaics line the upstairs of the Hagia Sophia. These mosaics of Virgin Mary, Jesus, saints and emperors or empresses were put up during the Byzantine period when the Roman Empire ruled. With the transition of Hagia Sophia into a mosque after the Ottomans took over, the mosaics were covered over by plaster or whitewashed. Luckily for me, lengthy restoration and recovery of the mosaics has been done over the years. Yet another reason to linger about on the upper level of Hagia Sophia's golden inside.
Few buildings have as rich and varied a history as the Hagia Sophia, which was built as a church, converted to a mosque, and now has religious representations from both on display. In many ways, Istanbul is well represented in this building since the city is a juxtaposition of old:new and differing religions, all of which appear to live harmoniously.
The outside doesn't begin to do justice to the interior; from the impressive dome to the mosaics and urns to the low chandeliers, the Hagia Sophia is breathtaking from the moment you walk through the doors. I was happy to have that "reveal moment" without a sneak peek, which is why I've included an outside shot of the building (not to mention that photos barely do the interior justice).
Living in London allowed me to explore a great deal of Western Europe during my tenure: France, Spain, Italy, Germany... this list goes on. While my love for Western Europe is infinite, it was my experience in Istanbul that I perhaps found most intriguing.
Istanbul famously melds the Eastern and Western worlds, and this was my first brush with anything that resembled the Middle East. The morning calls to prayer (that I wasn't prepared for), the Grand Bazaar, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and Topkapi Palace. Every corner we turned brought us into contact with this space that was entirely foreign and totally captivating. To this day, Istanbul remains one of my favorite cities. It's accessibility, history and culture is a force to be reckoned with.
In a world where many Christians and Catholics are fighting for tradition and many Muslims are fighting for respect, one place in Istanbul serves as an ancient glimpse into our future.
A church for 916 years before being converted into a mosque for 482 years, the Hagia Sophia's walls stand as an unintentional symbol of unity. The image of Virgin Mary alongside the rounded panes of Allah create a home for two voices brought together under one roof in search of one thing....peace.
That One Time We Almost Fell For The Istanbul Shoe Shine Scam
There are tons of variations, but basically the Istanbul shoe shine scam amounts to some poor sucker thinking he’s getting his shoes spiffed up for free, only to receive a bill at the end that’s 10 times the going rate.
One of the shoe shiner’s tall, beefy friends usually appears out of nowhere to help him collect.
Most travelers reported falling victim when they stopped a shoe shiner who had accidentally dropped one of his brushes. The shoe shiner insisted on polishing the thoughtful traveler’s shoes to show his appreciation.
To avoid getting scammed, don’t accept what seems like a pro bono polishing. If you want a legit shine, just agree on the price beforehand.
Walk into the Hagia Sophia and look up to the heavens and see why so many conquerors and their respective religions claimed this basilica turned mosque turned museum as their own. Visitors will swoon over the Byzantine gilded mosaics, hanging chandeliers, purple marble columns, Islamic calligraphic slates, and tiled seraphim, but the existing structure itself is an architectural wonder having stood the test of time since the 6th century.