A dancing fountain and a bit of green space is the fanciest part in approaching Aya on the ground. So after a quick photo op we move in closer with the crowds. Yes, it actually looks warm in the picture, which is a hint to how long it has taken me to blog about this amazing must see in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet District.
There are no gilded columns or domes. No gargoyles. No embellishments whatsoever. The only impression from the outside: the scope of her size, her graceful curves, the steady flow of people coming to pay a visit, and a simit vendor for those feeling peckish.
If you didn’t read your guide book to know that the Aya Sofia was extremely old, then there were hints for you after entering the grounds proper like this ancient graveyard.
If that didn’t impress you, then there were the ruins from the second church lying near the main entrance. You see, the first two churches built on this land burnt down in the year 404 after riots and then again in 532 during the Nika Revolt. Both times the roof had been made of wood. Several marble columns and stone remains from the second church were found as recently as 1935 in the Western Courtyard, but any excavation was halted due to concerns for the structural integrity of the Aya Sofia.
Random sections of the second church:
A relief of lambs in an excavation pit. There were twelve lambs, each one representing one of the twelve apostles.
The grounds around the Aya Sofia beg for more gazing and wondering. I didn’t take in enough or photograph enough — like the stone cannonballs lining the walkway to the entrance which were the actual ones Mehmet the Conqueror used in his siege of the city that resulted in his conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
I am always in awe of being someplace that is a stamp from times long gone.
In February of 532, just a few weeks after the second church was destroyed, Justinian I decided that a new church would be erected: larger, better, grander, and more majestic that any that were in current existence. He built the amazing beauty Aya Sofia (Hagia Sophia) which would be dedicated in 537, five years after employing over 10,000 workers and securing supplies from far and wide: columns from the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, gigantic purplish red stone from Egypt, green marble from Greece, black stone from the Bosphorus region, yellow stone from Syria and yellow marble from Libya. It is truly made from a mosaic of materials.
Once the Hagia Sophia was finished Justinian is quoted as having exclaimed, “Solomon, I have outdone thee!”
I am excited to revisit some of our photographs to show you the true magnificence of Aya: a church fought over, that was transferred into a mosque, then turned into a museum, and recently restored to show both its Christian and Islamic history. It is a true architectural and spiritual wonder.
For today, however, I’ve run out of time to continue on inside, so I’ll leave you at the snack shop just outside for a coffee and ice-cream. Of course, there is a snack shop!