The Church of the Holy Wisdom is known as the Hagia Sophia in Greek, Saint Sophia in Latin, and Ayasofya or Aya Sofya in Turkish. The current Hagia Sofia dates back to 532-537AD, with parts of it going back almost another 200 years. The monument is unique in its existence – having a base of both Christianity and Islam. Hagia Sophia, both architecturally and liturgically, was influenced by Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Muslim worlds. I had walked by the Hagia Sophia 5 days straight, without actually going in. It is also less than a half mile from my hotel, but still I did not enter this beautiful former Byzantine church and mosque, which is now a museum. Why not?
For me, the daunting lines might as well have made it located on the moon as far as I was concerned. Let’s see – I tried going at 8:45, approximately 15 minutes before it opened and the two lines – one to buy a ticket and the other line to actually enter – were a combined two football fields in length. Easily. Someone suggested going at 2pm and I tried that another day. Again, the lines were longer than I recall for the first Star Wars movie debut back in 1977, when I saw it in London. Another person supposedly in the know, told me that 3:55, just before closing, was the best time. Uhh huh. Wrong again.
So, what changed? Perhaps a better question is what did I discover that most of these tourists had no clue about? The 72 hour Museum Pass is what I discovered while in line – 7 people, big deal – to purchase a ticket for the Istanbul Archaeological Museum yesterday. I was fortunate to see the small English advertisement for this purchase near the ticket window. Yesterday, I planned on hitting 3 museums, including Topkapi Palace Museum, Harem Museum, and the one I was in line for, the Archaeological Museum.
I quickly did the math in my head, i.e., the 72 Lira cost, coupled with the time (72 hours) allotted to see each of the museums I wanted to visit. The clincher was that the Hagia Sophia was included in the list of museums that this pass was good for. Equally important, the biggest selling point was having to stand in ONLY ONE LINE. I would not have to purchase tickets again, whereby I would avoid two of the jaw-dropping lines at both the Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia. I was down with that. 🙂
So today, I woke up early and said to myself, “Today I will see the Hagia Sophia.” However, when I got there, the two lines were again very long. Damn. The sun was beating down hard on the people in line, with one person putting his jacket over his head to protect himself. I nursed my Starbucks coffee and waited to make my move – that is, if there was a move to be made. Almost a half hour went by before I saw two things occur: 1. The second line – where people had tickets or passes like myself – was moving very quickly; and, 2. The same line was only 50-60 yards in length. I have no idea how that happened, but I got my ass in gear and ran over to the end of it, before the first line again started feeding more people to the second one. I was right to have made my move, because a tour of approximately 30-40 people were apparently holding up the first line, which allowed the second line to shrink in size. That didn’t last long though. Five minutes later (while patting myself on the back), the line went back to its normal length of a football field plus. HA!
There have probably been a half dozen times in my life where I was just awestruck by something made by man – this was one of those times. All thoughts of waiting in line to get in were gone. I was so thankful that I had an opportunity to see this magnificent monument. The grandeur and beauty of this building is truly inspirational. I must have taken a couple of hundred photographs inside the Hagia Sophia. However, I spent an equal amount of time, if not more, just looking at certain parts of the monument. You’re mesmerized by what was accomplished architecturally. I kept on thinking that this was constructed almost 1500 years ago. I was blown away by that fact. The detail involved in certain parts of the monument, such as the mosaics are incredible and you have to allow yourself plenty of time to take it all in. At least, that was the case for me.
It was in 1453, that the church became a mosque due to the Ottoman Turks defeating Constantinople. Following this, Sultan Mehmed II ordered the church converted to the Ayasofya mosque. This resulted in bells, altar, and sacrificial vessels being removed and Christian mosaics being plastered over. For the next 500 years, this would be the principle mosque for Istanbul. It would also be the model and inspiration for other Ottoman empire mosques, such as the Blue Mosque. The Hagia Sophia is truly remarkable and I am so happy that I was able to see it. If you ever visit Istanbul, don’t let the lines negatively influence your decision to visit this beautiful monument. I almost allowed that to happen to me. Believe me, I would have regretted it for the rest of my life. It’s well worth the hassle of waiting in long lines. Better yet, do as I did, and get the 72 hour pass, which is good for 8-9 museums in the Istanbul area. In fact, I am visiting a couple of them tomorrow. Until my next post, I will leave you with a few more photos from the Hagia Sophia. Take care, Steve 🙂