They are probably the two most iconic and well-known sites in Istanbul- Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. It doesn’t matter which tour you book, which guide you read, who you speak to or which travel article you stumble upon…all will tell you that you cannot leave the city without paying them a visit.
As you approach Hagia Sophia the first thing you spot isn’t the vast imposing scale of the building, or the beautiful lattice-surrounded out-buildings or the fluffy street dogs basking in the sunshine. Instead (and somewhat unsurprising for Brits I suppose) is the queue. Huddles of tourists filter through turnstiles and your heart sinks as you imagine the swarms of people inside, every information plaque or interesting mosaic being eclipsed by iPads being held up for photos and bobbing heads. What I didn’t realise was that Hagia Sophia is so vast that despite the terrifying queues outside and constant stream of people it doesn’t feel crowded inside at all. Stick with it. The queues dissipate quickly and you’ll still get to see everything without being shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow tourists.
Even if you’re not much of a history fan, the story of Hagia Sophia is still an interesting one! Constructed in 537AD it was an Eastern Orthodox cathedral before undergoing a brief stint as a Roman Catholic church thanks to the Romans. But the real change happened in the C15th when it transformed into a mosque after the triumph of Ottoman Turks. This transformation resembles something somewhat similar to a half-hearted attempt at Changing Rooms. Mosaics of angels were plastered over, bells were removed and Christian relics were removed but little else was changed. A complete overhaul was out of the question and instead a cosmetic face lift was on the agenda. Minarets were added on to the existing building and Islamic features (the big circular symbols seen in the pictures) were stuck over the pre-existing Christian features. The result? A Christian-Muslim hybrid mix. Islamic words can be seen right next to stain class windows and mosaics bearing the face of Jesus. It’s an interesting sight to say the least.
Prime photo opportunity. ask a snap-happy tourist to put the blogger in front of the camera for once
What else to look out for (Ten House Points for each spot):
1. An ‘Ottoman’
2. Viking Grafitti a.k.a. Runic Inscriptions (not to be added to)
3. The View. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the gilding, chandeliers, domed ceiling and splendour of this place and forget to look out the window. I had to go on my tippy toes but it’s worth it if you do manage to steal a peek
Stay tuned for ‘Part 2’ of this post and a sneak peek inside the Blue Mosque by following A Stylish Review or using the social media buttons!