Born and raised in Istanbul, I had to wave goodbye to my hometown at the tender age of 15 as I moved to a land called far far away -aka USA. The more I traveled around and the more people I met, the better I realized the historical importance Istanbul had and the sad fact that I didn’t even have a good knowledge of its offerings. I mean, of course I always knew that tourists from all around the world would flock in to Istanbul, regardless of the season but I honestly didn’t quite understand what the fuss was about.
13 years later, when I decided to move back to Istanbul, I was ready to find out.
During the era when the Ottoman Empire ruled a great portion of the world, Istanbul served as the capital of this great empire. It was also one of the main arteries of world commerce thanks to its geographical situation and its ports. So, it goes without a saying that, Istanbul is very rich in historical artifacts.
Many of the historical sites from the Ottoman era are located within the “Tarihi Yarımada” portion of the city, which literally means “Historical Peninsula“. This area holds many museums, ancient malls and marketplaces that are still in use, an underground cistern with sculptures, mosques which are architectural wonders, a huge palace (duuuuuh!) and a special mosque that was converted from a Byzantine church.
This mosque-converted church was my first touristic destination as I arrived in Istanbul. Ayasofya (in Turkish) or Hagia Sophia (in Latin) was built betw. 532-537 by the order of Justinian the 1st, the Byzantine emperor. The name Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia) takes its roots from the Ancient Greek and it means Holy Wisdom which is one of the 3 names and qualities attributed to God in Orthodox belief.
Constructed in the city center, this patriarchal basilica happened to be the worlds largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years. It’s meanest if dome will leave you in awe once you look at it while you mind the era it was built in. I still can’t wrap my mind around the idea of how they built such a large and high dome with the lack of modern technologies!
When the Ottoman emperor Sultan Mehmet II conquered the Byzantine city of Constantinople and renamed it as Istanbul, the fate of Hagia Sophia has changed too and a new era started for her as an imperial Ottoman mosque named Aya Sofya. For nearly 500 years, Aya Sofya served as one of the most important mosques, it shut down its doors to religious services under the governance of the Republic of Turkey. It then opened its doors in 1935 as a museum where millions of people from all around the world visit each year.
Aya Sofya is one of the most important tourist sites of Turkey and it’s a must see whether you are visiting in Istanbul or happen to live here. Beautiful architecture and the artwork indoors are nothing short of amazing. After absorbing this magnificent structure and its royal history, I suggest you let it all sink in while you are sipping some Turkish coffee at the museums cafe under the ancient sycamore trees. You need this coffee break because you still have a lot to see in the Historical Peninsula…