The Hagia Sophia shrine in Istanbul is a breath-taking religious and cultural icon that has stood the ravages of time, disease, and conflicts for over 1500 years. It is venerated and visited by millions of tourists each year – but that may change.
If you haven’t seen the Hagia Sophia, it is truly inspirational and worthy of your Bucket List.
The story about what you will see
The tale of the Hagia Sophia is an essential part of the tumultuous history of two of mankind’s great religions, Christianity and Islam.
It is interesting to note that the time intervals between significant events in the story of the Hagia Sophia encompass many human lifetimes and world developments.
In the beginning, Emperor Constantine the Great proclaimed Christianity a free-state religion of the Holy Roman Empire in 313 AD.
He also moved the seat of his one-third control of the Roman empire from Rome to Constantinople in 330 AD. Having evolved into a corrupt social state, the city of Rome fell to Germanic tribes in 476 AD, but Constantinople survived to become the biggest and wealthiest city in Europe for the next 800 years.
It was the dream of the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I to build a prominent cathedral in the capital city of Constantinople. The construction of the Hagia Sophia cathedral, whose name translates to Holy Wisdom in Greek, was completed in 538 AD, 32 years before the birth of the prophet Mohammed.
For 600 years the Hagia Sophia served as an Eastern Orthodox Catholic church. However, in the year 1204, Roman Catholic Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade plundered Constantinople and looted the treasures of the Hagia Sophia. The cathedral remained under Roman Catholic control for just 57 years before the Eastern Catholics retook Constantinople from the weaker army of Rome.
The Roman Catholic Fourth Crusade broadened the growing schism between the Roman Catholic Church centered in Italy and the Eastern Orthodox Catholic church of Constantinople – the weakened alliance made the entire Catholic empire more vulnerable to its enemies.
The Muslim conquest
Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II conquered Christian Constantinople in 1453 and turned the Hagia Sophia cathedral into a mosque and a grand symbol of the Muslim Ottoman Empire. At the time, many of the Christian icons in the Hagia Sophia were covered over with plaster.
Through the intervening centuries, the mosque had many renovations and significant reinforcements were made to the structure. During the renovation of 1739 Sultan Mahmud I, had most of the remaining Christian mosaics covered over with other art.
In the mid-19th century, eight striking calligraphic roundels with the inscribed names of Allah, and Muhammad and his grandsons were installed prominently under the dome.
In 1931 Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the new secular Republic of Turkey commissioned famed American archeologist Thomas Whittemore to locate and restore the medieval Christian artwork in the Hagia Sophia.
The Hagia Sophia as a museum
When the work was completed in 1935 Atatürk opened the Hagia Sophia as a museum and a symbolic union between Islam and Christianity. The world celebrated Atatürk’s great gift for eight decades. Millions of tourists annually visit Istanbul and its incomparable and historic Hagia Sophia.
Typical of today
In 1935 Turkey’s first president Atatürk wanted to demonstrate to the international community of nations that the new republic of Turkey was taking a worldly turn – and all were welcome.
On July 10, 2020, the highest administrative court in Turkey declared that president Atatürk’s 1935 conversion of the Hagia Sophia into a secular museum was illegal. It ruled that the Hagia Sophia should immediately be returned to its prior status as a mosque.
Highly supportive of the court’s decision, on July 24, 2020, the nationalistic president of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended Muslim prayers in the reinstated mosque for the first time in 85 years.
To his credit (and in light of the negative global outcry), president Erdogan has assured other nations that the Hagia Sophia will remain open to foreign visitors during non-prayer hours. The Christian art will be covered during prayers, but available to be seen afterward.
The change back to a mosque was a disappointment to secular non-conformists and cultural globalists, but it could have been worse – just look at the world around us.
For many years secularism thrived in Turkey. During our visits, we found the Turkish people most cordial and generous of spirit. Islam was evident all around us. We are not Muslims but we saw no evidence of religious bias. We felt welcome. Turkey was an excellent host and the country is eminently rich in history and culture.
See it if you can.
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Copyright © 2020 Visit great vacation destinations with Wayne and Judy Bayliff
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