Istanbul #1: Connecting East and West

Hagia Sophia viewed from the Blue Mosque
Hagia Sophia viewed from the Blue Mosque

Returning to Istanbul is one of my travel goals.  Ending our Black Sea Cruise there was one of my favorite travel experiences, but we did not have enough time.  We arrived early in the day and overnighted in our ship and then spent another night at a hotel.  We took the ship’s basic full day tour, which included the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar and the Topkapi Palace.  All these attractions are located in a small area of old Istanbul across the Golden Horn from the newer part of the city where the ship docked.  While there are other fascinating parts of the city, the old city is where the first time visitor will want to spend most of the time.

Hagia Sophia mosaic of Madonna and Child
Hagia Sophia mosaic of Madonna and Child

Hagia Sophia (also known as Aya Sophia and the Church of Divine Wisdom, but is not St. Sophia’s) was built in the 6th century AD during the rule of Justinian when the city was known as Constantinople.  It was Christianity’s largest church for almost 1000 years until the Seville Cathedral was built at the beginning of the Renaissance.  By that time, the Ottomans had taken power and converted it to a mosque and started using it as a model for other mosque’s all over their empire.  Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s rule began a period of secular rule just after World War I and the temple became what it is now, a museum honoring its long religious heritage, both Christian and Islamic.  Since Islamic art eschews human representation, the historic mosaics of the Christian era had been covered with plaster and forgotten.  During the renovation process these great works have been uncovered revealing unknown works from the Byzantine era.

Justinian presents Hagia Sophia to Christ
Justinian presents Hagia Sophia to Christ

The renovations continue to this day and not without controversy.  Since the building was a church for nearly 1000 years and the leading Ottoman mosque for nearly 500 years, the building has strong elements of both religions and decisions often come to which religious tradition will be displayed.

Nonetheless it is considered one of the great architectural masterpieces of all time.  It is a core structure of the early Byzantine style of building.  It has been said that it was a building that changed history.  Sitting right across from the Blue Mosque, you see immediately its influence on later buildings.  The Blue Mosque was built 150 years after the Ottoman conquest.

See more of our pictures from our Istanbul visit at this link: and at



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