Before we entered Hagia Sophia, meaning “Divine Wisdom” in Greek, our tour guide* explained that the church was not christened with its moniker in honor of a woman named Sophia. Of course not. Such an enchanting, imposing, and persevering building could not have been named after a human called wisdom, but directly after wisdom itself. Built by Emperor Justinian around A.D. 532 as the “eastern Vatican,” transformed by the Ottoman leader, Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, in 1453 into a mosque, and then converted by the Turkish Republic in the 1930s into a museum, this architectural marvel has seen much history, heard many prayers, and survived to tell her tales through the combination of Orthodox Christian mosaics coupled with Islamic inscriptions on her walls. Megalo Ekklesia, Hagia Sophia, or Aya Sofya – however you call her, her years and experiences must have made her truly wise, indeed. Standing beneath her main dome, marveling at the intricate ceilings and hanging light fixtures, S and I both said that we could stay in there all day. However, Istanbul’s other wonders bekoned. Perhaps one day Hagia Sophia will welcome us back.
*We had a state-registered tour guide for a full day and he was spectacular. He helped us learn and understand more about Istanbul/Constantinople/Byzantium’s history and culture (and, allowed us to skip the lines of tourists waiting to enter many of the city’s major landmarks). If you’re heading to Istanbul and looking for a guide, let me know and I’ll give you his information.