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Published: March 8th 2016
I mean, when you've only got two days in Turkey, you have to start them both right. Another breakfast of burek and baklava was the way to go. From there, we headed up to the Hagia Sophia (again), this time actually getting there while it was open.
The first Hagia Sophia was built in 360 AD under Roman rule. Twice it was burned down and rebuilt, with the final iteration built in 537, wisely out of stone instead of wood. For the next ~100 years, it was either an Orthodox or Catholic cathedral, until the Byzantines invaded in 1453 and converted it. Thanks to its history and the Byzantines nicely not destroying it upon conquest, many mosaics and murals of important Christian figures remain, including pieces centered around Mary and Jesus - unsurprising, given that Jesus is one of the most important prophets in Islam. The building has been expanded over time, with wings and buttresses added in later additions and the minarets obviously not put in place until the Byzantines came through.
The entire mosque has been converted into a museum now, which means that access is much more open and easy for tourists than one might expect.
You walk in to a hallway with posters discussing the history of the building. Looking up, a gilded ceiling runs the length of the hundred-yard hallway, while marble columns line the walls. At one end, a small doorway leads to the upper galleries, where the sultans/emperors and their wives could observe happenings in the mosque and meet with dignitaries. From here you get the best view of the famous dome, supported by its pendentives. Beneath, giant shields with Arabic words painted on them line the upper gallery.
On the first floor, classic Byzantine tiling lines some walls and floors. Between the first floor and upper galleries in the front is the Sultan's lodge, adding as a place for leaders to privately pray. In the front of the mosque, in the obvious location for an altar during its Christian times, sits the Mihrab, which points the direction of Mecca so Muslims could pray properly. Outside the front door sits an ornate fountain for ritual pre-prayer ablutions, and across the park lies the Blue Mosque.
Unfortunately, this was all we had time to do today; our flight left at 5:00, so we had to head home, pack, and head out!
The flight was easy and short, and by 9:00 we were settled back into the AirBnb in Tel Aviv! We didn't do too much; just went for a nice walk down the beach, which is only a 5 minute walk from the apartment, before stopping for a classic Israeli dinner of hummus and shakshuka (I'm still unclear on what exactly that is, but it's delicious).
Tomorrow, I have a tour of the old city booked, and then I have the day free to explore while Marie works!
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