|In 537 AD, the Emperor Justinain I completed the Hagia Sophia
as a testament to the power of Christianity and place Istanbul (then Constanople)
had in that realm.
The church has an immense interior dome which was an architectural feat then, and still impressive today. Huge windows all around the church allowed light to pour inside, giving it a completely different feel than the claustrophobic canyons of European cathedrals. It is one of the largest domes still, and the only one with millions of gold mosaic tiles covering the inner surface. The whole interior of the church used to be covered in breathtaking mosaics depicting biblical scenes, but when the Muslims took the city and converted the church into a mosque, they covered the mosaics with plaster.
Now the church is a museum, but you can still se the Muslim influences in the church though the huge Arabic disks hanging from the walls and the Sultan's elevated private prayer room in the middle of the floor.
When I walked into the church, some 1500 years after it was built, I felt just as impressed as the first worshiper. I wanted to fall to my knees in awe at the wonder of the edifice and its survival through several earthquakes and owners. I walked all around the church, including the second floor where I saw graffiti dating from the 1600's.
Justinian was not arrogant in placing a mosaic of the Virgin choosing between the church offered by him, and all of Istanbul offered by the founder of the city, Emperor Constantine.
A thousand years later, a Sultan tried to rival the Sophia and built the Blue Mosque next door. He achieved his goal from the outside, with a plethora of domes leading your eye to the heavens as you ascend the stais to the main square in front of the mosque. Once you enter the mosque, you realize that it is not the Sophia, or anything close to it, but it was good to see that it is still in use.
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