SAINT SOPHIE (AYASOFYA MÜZESI)
Petit Futé's opinion on SAINT SOPHIE (AYASOFYA MÜZESI)
Designed to be a unique monument, it has remained so throughout its three lives: basilica, mosque and now museum.
Opposite the Blue Mosque stands the Basilica of St. Sophia, one of the glories of the Byzantine Empire, which for almost a thousand years was the largest shrine in the Christian world, surpassed only by St. Peter's in Rome in the sixteenth century. Dedicated to divine wisdom, it is the great work of Emperor Justinian, but was transformed into a mosque after the Ottomans took the city in 1453. The minarets and mausoleums they add to it lighten the heavy and massive aspect of the old basilica in the eyes of contemporaries. As you enter the nave, you are taken aback by the enormity of the building and the height of the dome, decorated with Quranic inscriptions, which stands 56 m, the equivalent of an eighteen-storey building. The most astonishing thing is that this dome, about thirty metres in diameter, was not supported by pillars, but by half-domes, an architectural prodigy that would later influence the Ottoman constructions of the great architect Sinan. Weakened by successive earthquakes, its structure is however reinforced by the addition of pillars and external buttresses. The construction of Hagia Sophia began in 532 and for five years employed more than 10,000 workers under the orders of the architects Isidore de Millet and Anthemios de Tralles. Materials arrived from all over the empire and they did not hesitate to bring from Ephesus pillars of Artemision, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. When the Ottomans seized Hagia Sophia, they had the image of Christ Pantocrator that adorned the dome covered and replaced it with calligraphy. The mosaics are preserved and it is only in 1750 that they are covered with a whitewash in order to be more in harmony with the Koran which forbids images. They could have been destroyed, but the sultan of the time, aware of the importance of these works of art, was content to conceal them. Thus today we can admire the superb Byzantine mosaics of the 6th century (inside the arches), and of the 9th, 10th and 12th centuries (south gallery). In 1934, Atatürk transformed the mosque into a museum to destroy the symbols that Saint Sophia could represent. Before leaving the courtyard, be sure to take a look at the mausoleum of Selim II. If you are staying in the neighbourhood, don't hesitate to go for a night tour: the spectacle between Sainte-Sophie and the Blue Mosque, sumptuously illuminated, is enchantingly beautiful.
Information on SAINT SOPHIE (AYASOFYA MÜZESI)
From 9am to 7pm - 5pm in winter. Open every day. Admission: 72 TL (free for children under 8 years old).
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