Aya Sophia: 1500 Years Strong

Aya Sophia: 1500 Years Strong

Texas may be the home of the modern mega-church, but they pale in comparison to the 1500 year old Aya Sophia, the world’s original mega-church.  Able to hold thousands of people since it’s opening in 537 AD, it is remarkable not only for it’s size, but also it’s beauty.  Towering above worshipers are enormous mosaics recreating scenes from the bible that have not only stood the test of time, but also withstood being plastered over for the 500 years the church served as a mosque.  The combination of the massive scale, mosaics and history, make the Aya Sophia a mega-church for the ages.

Beginning in 360 AD a church has stood on this site.  The first two churches here were burned to the ground over the first 200 years.  In 532 Byzantine Emperor Justine I decided to build a church for the ages, constructed from materials throughout the empire, a church that would withstand time.  Finished in 537, the Aya Sophia has withstood time and natural disasters like few structures in the world, in fact, it outlasted two of the world’s great empires which ruled just down Istanbul’s hills from it.  Serving as a church until 1453, the 1123 years it served as a church is among the longest tenures in the world.

When the Byzantine Empire fell so did Christianity reign as Istanbul’s religion.  In 1453 the newly installed Muslim rulers “converted” the Aya Sophia into a Mosque.  Covering mosaics with plaster, painting over walls, and awkwardly installing a pulpit facing Mecca, it became an Islamic place of worship for the next 482 years.  Though the structure survived, much of the art was permanently lost in this conversion.

Modern restorations have revealed some key mosaics such as Mary with baby Jesus, saved because they were plastered over, instead of removed.  This has created a unique mixture of Islamic and Christian iconography in one place of worship.

Realizing the significance of the building and it’s history of belonging both to the Christians and Muslims, the first President of Turkey converted the Aya Sophia into a museum.  Since 1943 it has no longer been a place of worship, rather a place for people to witness the greatness of Turkey over many centuries, a country steeped not in a single religion, empire, or even the past itself, rather a lasting part of humanity…a building in a culture that has lasted through the ages.

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WHEN YOU GO…

-No tripods. It is very dark inside the building and a tripod is required, but not allowed.  Security will “hold” your tripod for you if you bring one, but we have heard of people having success bringing in GorillaPods if they are connected to the camera in backpacks.  I would recommend giving it a try.

-Go early. Many tours arrive mid-morning, you can either try to beat the tours there, or wait them out if you arrive early.

-Take the tram. If you’re staying far from the Aya Sophia take the tram to get there.  The few streets there are near the Aya Sophia are crammed, making a taxi ride slow and expensive.

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.
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