After a full-on first day in Istanbul we had another busy day on day 2 in Istanbul we wanted to visit the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Spice Market, so lots more walking.
Our first day was overcast, the second day we had blue skies and temperatures in the high teens (Celsius) a great day for exploring. After a lazy breakfast at the hotel it was time to head back to Sultanahmet to visit the Hagia Sophia. The Museum Pass İstanbul provides you with express access to the Hagia Sophia, so suggest that you grab one before heading to the place as it is the second most visited museum in all off Turkey.
The Hagia Sophia was originally a Christian Church, then an Imperial Mosque and now it is a Museum that is currently undergoing significant restoration work. Construction of the Hagia Sophia commenced in AD537. Construction and restoration works have been conducted regularly throughout the life of the buildings that make up the Hagia Sophia. The current structure is the third build, the first Church was built in AD360 and burnt down during riots associated with exile of the then Patriach Of Constantinople in AD404. The construction of the second Church commenced in AD415 and it was also burnt down, this time during the Nika Revolt in AD532. A few weeks after the Nika Revolt the Emperor (Justinian 1) commissioned the building of a new Basillica that would be grander and larger than the first two, which still stands today, the Byzantines obviously new how to build something that would last!!
The Hagia Sophia Ground Floor
courtesy of http://www.gotourturkey.com/
From AD523 until 1453 the Hagia Sophia was an Orthodox Church, except during the period, 1204 – 1261, when Constantinople was occupied by the Latin Empire when it became a Roman Catholic Cathedral. During this period there were a number of earthquakes which damaged the structure requiring significant restoration work, including the restoration of the main dome.
After the main dome was restored in 994, four new cherubs (paintings were added). On the main dome the painting of Christ, on the apse the painting of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus between the apostles Peter and Paul and on the great side arches paintings of the Prophets and Teachers of the Church were added.
When the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453 and after they a looted the place, the Hagia Sophia was converted into a Mosque at the order of the Sultan. The damage inflicted during the looting of the Mosque was so significant that it required a full renovation, this was conducted in conjunction with the conversion from Church to Mosque. The minarets were added to the Hagia Sophia progressively from 1481, one collapsed as the result of an earthquake, during the 16th Century, including the raising of two large minarets that were captured during the conquest of Hungary. The restoration conducted in 1717 saved the many mosaics as an inadvertent result of the restoration of the plaster, as usually Mosque workers would have destroyed them and sold off the mosaic stones.
Another restoration was conducted between 1847 and 1849, this included the uncovering and cleaning of the mosaics in the upper gallery, a number of which were recovered to protect them. In 1935 Mustafa Kemal Atatürk transformed the Hagia Sophia into a museum which is what it has been ever since. Unfortunately, the condition of the structures continued to deteriorate until the World Monument Fund in 1997 secured a number of grants with the help of American Express to start another major restoration that was completed in 2006.
There is currently a push to reconvert the Hagia Sophia into a Mosque again. I wonder how that will impact the restoration of the mosaics and the building as well as tourist access.
After we finished exploring the Hagia Sophia it was time to head across the square to The Blue Mosque.