The Aya Sofia (Hagia Sofia/Aya Sofya) is, in effect, a fascinating museum. Having served as an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral, a Catholic Cathedral and a Mosque (all before 1935) you could be forgiven for becoming a little confused upon entry.
This is part of its charm – it’s not often you get to see competing religons in the same space.
I visited the Aya Sofia on my Dad’s insistence (and given how long the queue was when we decided to visit, we probably would have left if not for it).
Upon seeing the queue, we were approached by a guide offering to help us skip the queue and provide a guided tour – despite initial doubts, we readily accepted. The tour was great value. From memory it was around $20 each, though the cost to enter is $13 in any event and we literally avoided about 2 hours of queue time. Further, our guide was very knowledgeable and pointed out things we would have otherwise missed. If you can afford the extra spend, I’d definitely recommend finding a reputable guide.
Our guide began by taking us around the outside of the building, which (by comparison to the inside) is modest. It’s only upon entry that you realise what you’re witnessing. It is pretty spectacular.
But how spectacular? You see, there’s a bit of competition in Istanbul between the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque about which one is well, more beautiful. Both are gorgeous buildings in their own right, however history tells us that when Sultan Ahmed commissioned the Blue Mosque to be built (around 1000 years after the Aya Sofia), he intended to design it in a manner which would outshine the Aya Sofia. So, did he succeed?
To be honest, I don’t know. What I will say is that the Aya Sofia blew me away. From the detailed mosaics (many of which have backgrounds of gold), the marble, the size, the competing religious graphics… All were just ‘wow’. By comparison, the Blue Mosque is (relatively) moderate in its decoration. However, the two buildings are so completely different, it is almost unfair to compare them. Coupled with the fact that the Blue Mosque is still used for its intended purpose, they have a completely different ‘feel’ to each other. We spent most of our time walking aruond Aya Sofia with our mouths open in awe.
I loved both the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia. I can’t recommend visiting them highly enough. Though I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about whether Sultan Ahmed succeeded in his quest. You can compare by seeing my photos of the Blue Mosque here and my attempt to capture the Aya Sofia in this post.
So tell me, what are your thoughts on the two buildings? As you can see, we were pretty pleased with our visit!
The Healthy Globetrotter