Hagia Sophia, or Ayasofya, is one of the most impressive landmarks of the world, and a major stop on any visit to Istanbul. Over 1500 years old, it combines art & architecture of Byzantine and Islamic artists.
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Hagia Sophia at night
Santa Sophia possesses the power essential to any of the man-made Wonders of the World that I have seen, which is the power to sweep aside all preparations made in your mind, and to hit you amidships with an original force which makes you stop and stare. Venice’s Grand Canal does that, and the Taj Mahal and the skyline of Manhattan seen from Central Park; and so does Santa Sophia. First there is the hint of vast internal space glimpsed between massy columns, the effect of its magnitude broadening upon you as you advance under shadows in the half-domes like clouds, under gilt like dingy sunlight, until you are far from shore in the midst of the place, exposed to the total blow it deals you. Reverberant, multitudinous , the crowds with their many-echoing voices pay homage to the building itself, prayers of Muslim and Christian alike arising into those dim muttering domes lie the smoke of incense mounting into the cranium of an indifferent god. Thereafter the building’s presence up there on the skyline dominating the city – knowledge of what those domes contain every time I look up and see them there – has made me feel that I have identified the genius of the place, much as you feel that Vesuvius brooding above Naples is that city’s genius loci.
Journey to Kars – Philip Glazebrook
When we visit Istanbul, we try to stay in the Sultanahmet area since it’s in easy walking distance of many major attractions, including the Grand Bazaar. And Hagia Sophia is a short walk towards the Golden Horn, while nearby is the sprawling complex of the Topkapi palace which takes a day in itself. Topkapi host everything from the sultan’s harem, Mohammed’s sword, jeweled clothing of the sultans,to the famous Topkapi jewels and the kitchens that fed thousands of Janissaries. And that doesn’t include time for the separate museums on its ground such as the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Middle Eastern Countries. Splendid imperial mosques include the Blue Mosque, the Suleymanie, and Hagia Sophia. Vivaldi played in the background as we toured the enormous Basilica cisterns.
Sometimes magnificent works of art are preserved by a quirk of fate. An Ottoman pasha had the mosaics of St. Saviour whitewashed, and they were only recovered in the 20th century. These mosaics and frescoes of the Chorae Church form one of the visual highlights of any tour. If you’re interested in calligraphy, you’ll want to visit the small museum devoted to this artform near Bayezit.
In addition to the imperial mosques, many exquisite, smaller mosques are scattered thru the city, and display incredible Iznik tiles and other decoration.
In the Taksim area, Gezi Park was quiet on our most recent visit. There was a small protest near Galatasaray, but the police presence was much larger. Several dozen police and a water cannonvehicle nearby. A hundred yards up the road, a similar detachment of riot police; repeated several times all the way back to Taksim Square itself where there were more police and tanker trucks to re-supply the water cannon. Luckily the day ended peacefully.