Walking through the giant entrance doors is both humbling and breathtaking. There is a crumbling faded beauty here. Along with the peeling paint and missing mosaic tiles, there are graceful arches, intricate wood carvings and ironwork, and sunlight filtered through high windows. Close your eyes and imagine the electric bulbs suspended from the ceiling were once thousands of candles.
From the outside it’s easy to confuse the Hagia Sophia with just another mosque in a city which has hundreds. There’s a big dome and minarets flanking the four corners, but walk inside and it’s another story all together. In fact, many times I found myself looking at the skyline from a distance and wondering …”which is which?”
The Hagia Sophia was first a christian church built mostly as it stands now, giant dome and all, in the sixth century. When the Ottomans took over in the 15th century it was converted to a mosque, complete with minarets and changing the orientation of the apse to face Mecca.
Now, both the church and the mosque have been deconsecrated and the building is a museum open to the public Tuesday-Sunday, check for summer/winter hours and admission prices.
It’s hard to gain perspective on the center dome from photos, but from the floor to the top of the dome is 184 feet. Keep in mind this was built in 537 AD, long before the likes of St Peter’s in Rome.
The photo above shows the mihrab, placed offset at the end of the apse, indicating the exact direction of Mecca. They could not change the orientation of the church when it was converted into a mosque which is why the mihrab is not symmetrical to the rest of the structure.
Upstairs in the gallery are a number of mosaics. We went in search of one listed as “Emperor Alexander holding a skull” (how could you not?) but we were unable to find it. But not to worry, there were plenty of others including a slightly disquieting one below.
Would it be sacrilegious to say that the baby Jesus looks a little like Chuckie in the above mosaic?