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Istanbul's Two Great Mosques: Hagia Sophia & the Blue Mosque

The two buildings look across the crowded square at each other. Like Istanbul itself, they both divide and join the citizens and their history. Represented within these two great landmarks is the core of the city’s heritage. If the buildings were people, historical figures even, they would be eyeing each other off with an acceptance of contemporary diplomacy but with memories of a violent past. This is the beauty today of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (aka Blue Mosque) and Hagia Sophia.

Turkey and Istanbul in particular have always been a melting pot of culture and religion. As the bridge between Europe and Asia, it has been the battleground for physical and ideological warfare over the centuries. But a constant struggle is unsustainable. Eventually one world became another and the past became a story rather than a daily reality.

Hagia Sophia

On one side of Sultanahmet Park, Hagia Sophia (top) dominates the skyline with its red walls and minarets. It was originally built in 360 AD and for more than a thousand years was a Christian church.It belonged to the Orthodox Catholics for the whole time, except for a 57-year period between 1204 and 1261 when it was a Roman Catholic cathedral. The forces of Sultan Mehmed invaded the city in 1453, and upon capturing the building the sultan declared immediately that it should be turned into a mosque. The tide shifted and the cultural makeup of the city was set in the direction that would lead it to modern times.

Today Hagia Sophia is a museum. From the inside and the outside, it looks like a mosque and it’s hard to imagine the original cathedral form.The low-hanging lights in the main hall add a glowing brilliance to the room, while the enormous dome is one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture. The high ceilings – higher than most religious shrines in the world – make you feel insignificant in the presence of a deity.


Sultan Ahmed Mosque

On the other side of Sultanahmet Park, the red is juxtaposed with the blue. Although technically called the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, most people just refer to it as the Blue Mosque because of the colour of its interior tiles.

The enormous structure was completed in 1616 - long after Hagia Sophia had fallen into Islamic hands.The construction of the mosque was ordered by the young sultan Ahmet I, who at the age of just 19 decided he wanted a building more impressive than the Hagia Sophia. Whether he achieved that aim is probably a matter of opinion. Regardless, it is a masterful mosque which can be appreciated from the inside and the outside.

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