Turkey is featured as one of the top 10 world tourist destinations in 2019 as per the United Nations World Tourism Organization, and it is still a much sought-after travel destination for many reasons. From its lip-smacking Turkish cuisine to its many historical places, such as the recently discovered Göbekli Tepe, which is regarded as one of the greatest archeological discoveries, the country is full of exploration. First-timers will also have an extensive list of attractions to visit and the best places to stay.
History buffs will not only have the chance to relish its cuisine but will be able to immerse in its historical side, especially by visiting some of its iconic places, such as the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, famed for their exquisite Byzantine and Islamic architectural design.
Hagia Sophia - Turkey
The magnificent Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) is an iconic landmark of Turkey, similar to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, but with the exception that this fabulous building has religious and cultural significance in the history of Istanbul. This sublime structure was first built between 532 AD and 537 AD as a Christian basilica under the command of Byzantine emperor Justinian 1. Today one can marvel at the intricate design and architecture thanks to the painstaking work of the Greek Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles. At that time, the majestic building was called the ‘Church of the Holy Wisdom.’ The construction of this grand dame church is believed to have changed the history of Byzantine architecture. In the past, the church was destroyed by many riots, including the Nika riots, which took place over the course of a week in 532 AD. Historians considered the Niko riots as one of the most violent riots in the city's history, whereby half of Constantinople was burned along with ten of thousand people were killed.
After the reign of the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire took over by Sultan Mehmet II, and in 1453, he converted the church into a mosque. Subsequently, the mosque became the principal mosque of Istanbul until 1616. During its conversion period, historians claimed that the bells, altar, ambo, baptistery, and iconostasis were removed. In addition, the mosaic of Jesus, Mary Virgin, and Christian Saints were either removed or plastered over. The facelift included the construction of four minarets, a mihrab (the direction of the Kaaba), and Islamic architectural designs. The mosque was opened to the public in 1931 and was then closed for four years. It was reopened as a museum in 1935 by order of Mustafa Atatürk (the founding father of the Republic of Turkey). However, later the building was reclassified as a mosque.
Visiting Hagia Sophia - Tourist Guide Istanbul
To marvel at the gorgeous architectural design of the Hagia Sophia mosque, one must follow the etiquettes while visiting this religious attraction. It is highly recommended for both males and females to dress respectfully before entering the mosque. Clothes such as shorts, short skirts, or shoulder-less tops are not allowed when entering the mosque. Women are advised to wear a headscarf before entering the mosque. There are headscarves that can be borrowed for free at the main entrance.
- Admission Fee: There is no admission fee to enter the mosque.
- Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the mosque after praying hours.
- Visitors are advised to remove their footwear on entry.
- Address: Sultan Ahmet, Ayasofya Meydanı No:1, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
- Distance Between Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque: 4 minutes’ walk-away
The Blue Mosque Of Istanbul
Another historical grand dame of Istanbul architecture is the Blue Mosque, officially known as Sultan Ahmed Mosque, which was constructed in the 17th century between 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I. It was Sultan Ahmed himself who commanded to build a large mosque in the city for the purpose of reasserting the Ottoman power in the region as there was an ongoing war with Persia between 1603- 1618). The Blue Mosque sits just next to Hagia Sofia mosque and attracts many tourists as well. It was listed under the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 under the ‘Historic Areas of Istanbul’ and is recognized as the ‘last great mosque of the classical period.’
To highlight the real splendor of the mosque, the Sultan ordered the architect Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa to take over the project. He was the student of the much-respected architect Mimar Sinan, and during his absence, Sedefkâr Mehmed Ağa incorporated many of the Byzantine elements from the nearby Hagia Sophia with the traditional Islamic architecture in designing the mosque.
Visitors will have the chance to view the 20,000 hand-painted blue tiles in the interior of the mosque. The glazed ceramic has 60 different tulip patterns. Moreover, the lower stories consist of 200 illuminating stained-glass windows. There are also a large fountain and a special area for ablution. The mosque also has a Külliye, which is a complex containing Sultan Ahmed’s tomb, a madrasah, and a hospice. Additionally, there are five main domes, eight secondary domes, and six minarets.
Address: Sultan Ahmet, Atmeydanı Cd. No:7, 34122 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
Visiting The Blue Mosque - Istanbul
Just like the Hagia Sophia mosque, it is advisable to follow the proper dress code before entering the Blue Mosque. Since the Blue Mosque attracts many tourists, admission is usually controlled to preserve the sacred atmosphere of the holy place. Worshippers are only admitted through the main door, while non-worshippers will have to use the south door and then follow the signs.
- Admission Fee: There is no admission fee to enter the Blue Mosque.
- Note: The mosque is closed during prayer times, notably two hours before dawn, during dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset, and right before the last light of the day. It is also closed on Friday mornings. Usually, the Friday midday prayers are longer than the normal prayer time.