Thursday, June 28, 2012

Istanbul: Haggia Sofia Museum

The Haggia Sofia is one of the highlights of any trip to Istanbul. First off, it's gorgeous, as you'll see from the pics below in a sec. To add to that, the structure has an amazing history. From the year 360 to 1204, it served as a Greek Patriarchal cathedral. Then from 1204 to 1261, it was a Roman Catholic church, then back to the Greeks until 1453 when it was converted to a Muslim Mosque. Finally, in 1935, it was opened as the museum it is today. The combination of religious influences make the place really unique. One on wall you've got a mosaic of Mary and baby Jesus, across from it a plate of Arabic writing, a few angels overhead. Really amazing - the photos below don't do it justice, but we tried! :)

A view from the outside. The museum opens at 9:00 and luckily from the research I did in advance we knew to get there early to avoid the lines. We arrived about 8:40 and ended up about 10 in line. By 8:45, the line numbered close to 100. Whew!

Another tip for those traveling to Turkey: You can use credit cards, but in places like the Haggai Sofia, it means getting into a specific line, which of course we didn't find out until we got up to the window in the wrong line! Get some Turkish cash to make things easier.

One of the Catholic influences - a baptismal font. I just really loved how the light was coming in at this time of day.

A view of the main alter area. Notice the Muslim plates on either side. The small painting in the middle of the dome above the windows is the Virgin Mary and Jesus. So cool to see the contrast and mix of religions. And yes, those are chandeliers throughout the area. There were lots and lots of them and they were HUGE.

The Muslim ablution station. Muslims wash hands, feet and face before praying using this jar to get the water for the ritual.

Our official tour guide. This cross-eyed cutie was walking around the place like she owned it. She was nice enough here to pose for the paparazzi and then stretch for a little scratch behind the ears.  We saw quite a few cats around the city - in the outdoor cafes and at many of the sites like this one. Really healthy looking and well fed, they were all quite friendly - a true reflection of the Turkish culture.

This is called a Mimber - in a mosque this corresponds to the function of a pulpit in Christian church. Basically, it's where the sermon or message is given on holy days.

There's a closer view of the painting of the Virgin and Child.

A long view from the balcony. It was just breathtaking and unfortunately, the photos just can't capture how beautiful this place is, and how big.

This final photo is one of our favorites. Brian took it by holding the camera out one of the windows in the balcony. We think it looks a bit like something George Lucas would use in a Star Wars film. And as you can see, the weather was absolutely perfect - a welcome change from hot and humid Abu Dhabi.

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