The three sites are next door to each other in the Sultan Ahmet district of Istanbul, so easy to visit especially if your hotel is also in this area.
When you think of Istanbul and historic sites the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya and Topkapi Palace are the first that come to mind. Fethiye Times hates to disappoint its readers so, even though only two of the party entered the Blue Mosque while the rest were at a wedding; and everyone went into Topkapi but it was so crowded that we didn’t manage to enter single building, we are going to tell you about these famous places – then you can go and see for yourself. The three sites are next door to each other in the Sultan Ahmet district of Istanbul, so easy to visit especially if your hotel is also in this area.
The Blue Mosque is officially Sultan Ahmet Mosque and is called ‘Blue’ because that is the prominent colour in the tiles which feature prominently in its internal decoration. These are Iznik tiles from the finest period. It was built for Sultan Ahmet 1 and completed in 1617, the year before his death. The mosque is also famous for its six minarets, which make it easy to identify and, as long as you don’t turn up at prayer time, you can go in and look around. Women should be ‘modestly dressed’ (shoulders, arms and legs covered) and have a scarf to cover their heads. Men should also have long trousers and arms covered (a sleeved t-shirt is probably OK).
Aya Sofya was originally the home of the Greek Orthodox religion (like St Peter’s in Rome for the Catholics) and the first church on this site was built by the Emperor Constantius and completed in 360AD but burnt down in 404. A new church was built on the same site and opened in 415 only to also burn down in 532. The Emperor Justinian was determined to recreate the church on an even grander scale and, to do so, he brought the best designers and craftsmen from all over the Byzantine Empire who created the church we see today which was opened in 537. Over the centuries it has suffered earthquake damage and been repaired and altered many times but it is still essentially the building created by Justinian.
When the Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453 the church was converted to a mosque and only after the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1932 did it cease to be used for worship. It opened as a museum in 1934 since when work has been in progress to reveal and restore the original Byzantine mosaics and frescoes. Aya Sofya is always busy with visitors – though it is so huge you can usually get away from the crowds.
We’ll leave Topkapi Palace until next time …………… watch this space.