I took the opportunity of a six-hour layover between flights in Istanbul to go explore the centre of the city; the only other time I had been there I saw only what was visible from the taxi between airport and hotel.

This time was different. Though feeling really crap and cold-ridden, I made it safely into the middle of town, and basically orbited back and forth between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque for two hours.

The Hagia Sophia (Ἁγία Σοφία, Holy Wisdom) basilica was built by Justinian in the 530s, and was the largest cathedral in the world for a thousand years.

After the Turkish conquest in 1453 it became a mosque.

And Ataturk turned it into a museum in the 1930s, so there are a few Byzantine pillars in the grounds..


But some of the original Byzantine artwork has resurfaced, or been restored:

Including this one at one of the doors, where on the left Justinian offers the Hagia Sofia itself, and on the right Constantine offers the city which bore his name for centuries, to the Mother of God.

From the doorstep of the cathedral, the ancient Hippodrome extends about 500 metres; halfway along its length, the emperor Theodosius erected an Egyptian obelisk in 390 AD. The Blue Mosque is in the background. Just consider the timescales involved: Thutmosis had the obelisk engraved in 1490 BC, almost two millennia before Theodosius brought it here; the mosque was built in the first part of the 17th century, over 1200 years after the obelisk got there; and roughly four hundred years later, I get to take a photograph of it.


The Blue Mosque itself is too vast for the humble tourist photographer to capture it, so you will have to be satisfied with the majesty of the entrance…

…and this internal view of one of the domes, slightly spoiled in my opinion by the vast number of wires dangling from the ceiling supporting the electric lighting system.

Some day I shall go back and see more.

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