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Hagia Sophia

Otherwise known as the Church of the Divine Wisdom, Hagia Sofia (pronounced Aya Sofiya) was built in 548 by Byzantine Emperor Justininian. This church and this Empire were the center of Christianity for almost one thousand years. 

When the Ottoman Turks conquered the city in 1453, they brought Islam to the area and converted the cathedral into a mosque. All of the minarets are from the time after the fall of Constantinople (or the conquest of  Byzantium - depending on whose history you are reading!!)

The Hagia Sophia is a profound place of beauty. I found the domes and arches to complement each other perfectly, and the minarets added an interesting vertical element. Plus it looks nice with all the flowers around!

As the dark draws in, the lights on the museum go on, bathing it in a magical glow...

It was full of stunning gold and precious stone mosaics, the Byzantine's preferred art form.  A mosaic is a picture made up of thousands of small pieces of stone, glass, gold or jewels.  From a distance, it looks like a painting or fresco. As you walk closer, you see the amazing detail. 

  The best part about walking around inside is imagining what treasures still lie behind the white plastered walls waiting to be discovered.
When Constantinople was taken over by Ottoman Turks in 1453, the church was converted into a mosque, complete with minarets and mihrab, a depression in what is called the qibla wall indicating the direction towards Mecca (and towards which worshipers should face while praying).
Islam does not permit the portrayal of human or animal images, so many of the mosaics were covered with plaster, preserving them, and giant quotes from the Qur'an hung from the walls. 
There has been extensive restoration of the works in Hagia Sofia since it was proclaimed a museum in 1935. It is now a beautiful synthesis of Byzantine and Islamic art, allowing us to encounter both  during our visit.

The Weeping Column, which used to be called Gregory's Pillar, features a small hole into which you put your finger. If it comes out wet (or damp?), you'll either be granted your wish or have miraculous healing depending on who you talk to. Of course we had to try it, but only dad's thumb (with the help of a little inconspicuously-applied saliva) had any moisture on it when it came out.

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