ST.SOPHIA - AYASOFYA MUSEUM
Aya Sophia was,
for nearly a thousand years, the largest enclosed space in the world,
and still seen as one of the world’s most important architectural
monuments. It is one of Turkey’s most popular attractions, drawn by
the sheer spectacle of its size, architecture, mosaics and art.
For 916 years it was a church, then a mosque for 481 years, and since
1935 has been a museum. Thought to have been constructed by Emperor
Konstantinos I (324 – 337) it was burned down during a revolt. Rebuilt
by Emperor Theodosium II, it was opened for worship in 415 and once
again was burned to the ground, during the Nika revolts of 532.
Emperor Iustanianus (527 – 565) wanted to construct something even
bigger than the original two and appointed architects Isidoros from
Miletos, and Anthemios from Tralles to build the Aya Sophia which
still stands. Columns, heads, marble and coloured stones were imported
to Istanbul from ancient cities in Anatolia for the purpose.
The construction began on 23 December 532, and was completed exactly
five years later. The main, central section measured 100m x 70m,
covered with a 55m high dome which was a mammoth 30m in diameter –
appearing to be a great feat of design. The mosaics are of great
importance, and the oldest ones are dominated by geometric and plant
motifs decorated with gold.
The worst desecration of the church was in 1204, ransacked by Catholic
soldiers during the Fourth Crusade. In 1453, after a failure of the
Byzantine Church to fend off the Turks, Mehmet the Conqueror captured
the city, rode into Aya Sofia and immediately turned it into a mosque.
It was repaired several times, and Islamic ornamentation added, for
example an extract of the Koran by calligrapher Izzet Efendi inscribed
on the dome. The other reminders of its previous status as a mosque
include huge wooden plaques bearing the names of Allah, the Prophet
Mohammed and the first four caliphs.
The marble and mosaics remain the most interesting aspects today. The
columns supporting the gallery are made from antique marble, and in
the western gallery is the green marble which marks the position of
the throne of the Empress. The impressive figurative mosaics include
Virgin and Child flanked by two emperors, dating back to the late 10th
century, and one depicting Christ, the Virgin, and St John the
Baptists. Even though there is partial damage, the haunting images on
their faces remain as strong as ever.
Opening hours: 09.30 - 16.30, daily
MUSEUM OF TURKISH AND ISLAMIC ART
Built in 1524 by
Ýbrahim Pasa, the Grand Vizier to Suleyman the Magnificent, this was
originally a palace and the grandest private residences in the Ottoman
Empire – and one of the few which have survived. Some of it, however,
was destroyed and rebuilt in stone to the original designs in 1843.
Now home to the museum, this is considered one of the finest
collections of Islamic art in the world, with a superb display of
ceramics, metalwork, miniatures, calligraphy and textiles, as well as
some of the oldest carpets in the world. Equally as impressive is the
grace of the building, with the central courtyard giving something of
an insight into the atmosphere of the residence.
Opposite is the Great Hall, which houses a collection of Turkish
carpets, with exquisite antique carpets and kilims and one of the
finest collections in the world, the oldest exhibit dating back to
Opening hours: 09.00 – 17.00, closed
YEREBATAN SARNICI (CISTERN)
Nearby Aya Sofia
is the 6th century Byzantine underground Basilica cistern, with 335
massive Corinthian columns supporting the immense chamber’s fine brick
vaulting. This is one of several buried into the city’s foundations,
and the first to have been excavated and renovated. Thought to have
been built in the 4th century by the emperor Constantine, then
enlarged two centuries later, it was supplied with water from Belgrade
Forest, amd supplied it to the Great Palace and Topkapi Palace.
It fell into disuse and was then restored in 1987 with the mud and
water removed, and narrow raised pathways providing easy access for
visitors. It is the largest covered cistern in the city, measuring 140
by 70 metres.
Opening hours: 09.00 - 17.00 closed
The Mosaic Museum
preserves in situ exceptionally fine 5th and 6th century mosaic
pavements from the Grand Palace of the Byzantine emperors. Because of
the way they are exhibited, it is easy to understand their size and
scale especially because many of them can be viewed from a catwalk
Opening hours: 09.30 – 17.00, closed
This is actually
Kariye Mosque, once the 11th century church of St Saviour in Chora, is
considered to be the most important Byzantine monument in Istanbul,
after Aya Sofia. Whilst unremarkable in its architecture, the interior
walls are decorated with superb 14th century mosaics. Illustrating
scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary, these brilliantly
colored paintings embody the vigour of Byzantine art. The restored
wooden houses in the surrounding area are a good place for relaxation
The church was probably built in the early 12th century, of which only
the nave and central apse remain. Theodore Metochites rebuilt it
between 1316 and 1321, the same years from which the mosaics and
frescoes date, which depict the life of Christ in picture-book fashion.
There is a series of mosaics in the form of devotional panels in the
narthexes, the theme of which is reflected in the frescoes in the nave
and funerary chapel.
Opening hours: 09.30 – 16.30, closed
Highlight of this
museum is definitely the Mehter Takimi, the Ottoman military band,
which performs every afternoon between 15.00 – 16.00. It also has a
good collection of Ottoman military memorabilia, like the cotton and
silk tents used by the sultans at war, and armour and weaponry like
heavily decorated jambiyah daggers.
The band, which originated in 1289, became an institution which came
to symbolise the power and independence of the Ottoman empire, and
these musicians, who were janissaries, always accompanied the Sultans
into battle. But quite apart from their benefit on the battlefield,
they came to create new musical styles in Europe, and even influencing
Mozart and Beethoven.
09.00 – 17.00, closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
RAHMÝ KOÇ INDUSTRY MUSEUM
The museum is set
in an Ottoman-period building, an 18th century factory which produced
anchors and their chains. It was recently converted, although has
retained many of its original features, and restored by Rahmi Koc, one
of Turkey’s most powerful industrialists. It was essentially done so
he could house his private collection of models, machines and vehicles
which he had collected from all over Europe, and exhibits include
original penny-farthing bicycles, a ship’s bridge, and an engine from
the Kalender steam ferry. The museum is trying to raise the Australian
navy’s first submarine sink of gallipoli in World War I.
10.00 – 17.00, closed Mondays
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