The Hagia Sophia is a 6th-century Christian basilica, converted to a mosque by the Ottomans. After 85 years as a museum, Hagia Sophia became a working mosque again in 2020. If the word awesome still had meaning, I would use it to describe the Hagia Sophia, temple of Holy Wisdom. It set the standard for Byzantine architecture, though it was 1,000 years before another cathedral surpassed its size. From the outside, it’s a red-orange mountain that seems to anchor the city to the Bosphorus shore. It’s not particularly beautiful but the air of greatness can’t be missed. On the inside, it’s vast and filled with the light of heaven. The massive, superlative dome practically floats above the wide-open enormity below. Interior surfaces are decorated with frescos, mosaics, calligraphy and marble.
Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), Istanbul
The Sultanahmet Mosque is just down the way from Hagia Sophia. Together they are like bookends to the Hippodrome (Roman entertainment center). The Sultanahmet Mosque is commonly called the Blue Mosque after the 20,000 hand-painted tiles on the interior walls. It pairs well with the Hagia Sophia, not only in proximity but also as a complementary experience. While Hagia Sophia draws the attention upward, the Blue Mosque induces inward reflection. Hagia Sophia makes me go Wow! Blue Mosque makes me go ahhh. Inside the Hagia Sophia, I feel small. Inside the Blue Mosque, I feel peace. There’s a lot happening on the walls, with all the painted tiles, but the atmosphere is light and serene. Continue reading →
The Chora Museum, also known as the Kariye Museum or Church of the Holy Savior (or St. Savior) in Chora, is a Byzantine church in the Edirnekapı neighborhood near the Byzantine walls, about 3 miles from Sultanahmet (Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Hippodrome etc.)
The building itself is unassuming, you might walk past without even noticing it. Please don’t! In my humble opinion, it’s one of the best sites in Istanbul, and that’s saying a lot. Inside is a collection of the best Byzantine art in Istanbul and among the best anywhere.
The fresco pictured above is one of nearly 50 vivid biblical scenes that wrap the interior walls, domes and vaults of the Chora Museum (originally a church, then a mosque) in the largest city of our mystery country. The existing 11th-century structure was built on the remains of a 4th-century Byzantine church. When the original church was built, it was outside the city walls, hence the name Chora, which means “country” in ancient Greek. Most of the frescos and mosaics are from the 14th century. After the Ottoman conquest, the church was converted to a mosque and the figurative art, not allowed in Islam, was covered in plaster. Restoration of the mosaics and frescos began in the 1940s.