Things to do in Istanbul
For so many years, I have wanted to go to the city of Istanbul. I never really had an idea about what it would be like, but knew that it was a right dab in the middle of the East and the West. Straddling both Europe and Asia, making it the only city in the world to sit across two continents. Somehow, Istanbul City has managed to retain its character through centuries of successive change.
Wander the streets of Istanbul
The sights and sounds that are Istanbul are so difficult to explain, as I tried to thru my Journey through the Streets of Istanbul photographs. At first, I was so overwhelmed with the mass difference from the USA, that I had a hard time describing my emotions and thoughts about this place. It has taken me a while to get them into words. When you visit, there are the “must-see sights”.
Visit Chora Church
But the one thing that struck a chord with me more than any other place I visited was the Chora Church. Maybe it is because I am Christian and I was in a Muslim world and everything was so starkly different than what I am used to.
But I have to tell you, as a Christian, there was no other place that was more mesmerizing than Chora Church. Simply the taxi ride from our hotel on the Bosphorus in Istanbul City to the Chora Church made my mind wander. My fingers clicking every other second on my camera, as there was a photo opportunity around every corner.
Sometimes, I feel like I could take that ride over and over again and never really describe the cab ride up the mountain to Chora Church. Upon arrival, I was almost questioning as to whether or not this was really the place, as it didn’t seem like it could be something spectacular. Nothing could have been further from the truth. It was the highlight of the trip for me.
Of course, I enjoyed the vendors of traditional ceramics, art and Turkish souvenirs before the entry, but the exterior did not reveal as to the magnificent interior gem inside. I was stunned upon entry, as this was no ordinary church. I was utterly speechless, so make sure on your trip to Istanbul you don’t miss this place.
Hagia Sophia Istanbul
(known by many other names, like Santa Sophia Istanbul, Santa Sophia, Aghya Sophia, Aye Sophia or simply Sophia)
The Hagia Sophia (Greek) or Aya Sofia (Turkish), or Santa Sophia is a former Byzantine church that became a mosque in Ottoman times and became a museum in 1935. This former church, later mosque, now museum turned 1,478 years old in 2015.
Once you are inside, don’t rush to walk through the large bronze doors, which offer glimpses of the interior, but linger in the passageway.
The entrance known as the Imperial Gate was the entrance used only by the emperors. Above it, is the Imperial Gate Mosaics dating from the 9th or 10th centuries. Look closely at the image above the door, it depicts the emperor of the time bowing down before Jesus Christ.
At the ground level, most things have an Islamic background. In the apse of the mihrab (a semi-circular niche in an Islamic building) is a marble structure indicating the direction of Mecca. At the upper level there are many Christian sights, like a mosaic of the Virgin and Child, and so it is quite a contradiction and yet a joining of religions and cultures. I was even more amazed to notice that the Mecca-pointing Mihrab was nestled just off-center from the orientation of the Christian apse itself.
In the world we live in today, with so much focus on ideological contrast and conflict, the two juxtapositions against each other was mesmerizing, as we each stood there in awe, Christians and Muslims together, staring at its beauty.
Once a Greek Church in the Capital of the Roman Empire!
The Hagia Sophia was actually constructed in 3 phases (beginning in 360 A.D.) and the structure that you see today was completed in 537 A.D. It was a Greek church, in what was then the new capital of the Roman Empire.
When the Ottoman army conquered Constantinople in 1453, the building was quickly converted into a mosque. That helped to serve a goal – to place the firm stamp of Islam upon the city without completely disenfranchising the majority Christian population of Istanbul at the time; while preserving one of the world’s architectural wonders.
The Santa Sophia Istanbul was the largest cathedral in the world for hundreds of years and today the museum is Istanbul’s second most visited site. (Topkapi Palace is first, but honestly if pressed for time go with the Santa Sophia Istanbul.)
Hagia Sophia Information:
You can visit all days of the week except Monday’s and the entrance fee is 25 Turkish lira (~$14).
I recommend taking your time to wander around this area which has seen the passing of 3 intercontinental empires, a world war, and the birth of the world’s first secular and democratic Muslim-majority nation.
More things to do in Istanbul
Don’t forget to visit the
Galata Tower and Bridge
Oh, and Discover those Istanbul cats!
And If you can catch Istanbul on Republic Day, you are in for a spectacular firework show like you have never seen in your life!
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