From Church to Mosque to Museum: A Visit to the Hagia SophiaEURASIA, Historic/Museums, STAFF — By Cathie Nichols on August 24, 2012 at 01:24
By staff writer Cathie Nichols. Photos Copyright © Cathie Nichols.
“How did you end up in Turkey?” you might ask.
Turkey was never on my short list (or even the long list) of places I wanted to visit before I die.
It all began one day last September when my daughter brought a flyer home from school outlining a trip to Istanbul, Turkey along with two of the Greek Islands, and ending in Athens, Greece. Her art teacher takes interested students each year to faraway places such as Italy, France, Costa Rica, and England through a group called EF Tours.
Parents can enjoy the trip with their student, too, or let the child go without them.
My middle daughter is a fairly shy and introverted child who does not enjoy going out to dinner so I couldn’t imagine her going out of the country, but thought the trip might help with her development of some great life skills. Her dad said she could go but I voiced concern about the safety of our daughter in a foreign country. He suggested I go with her.
Because I did not know the art teacher well enough to entrust her with my daughter’s life, I agreed to fly half-way around the world to Turkey and Greece. Did I mention my oldest daughter signed herself up as well? Thank goodness EF Tours has a monthly payment plan, which we definitely utilized!
We landed in Istanbul, Turkey and spent an interesting night at the first hotel, but more on that later in another post. This article is about our first tour with our group to the Hagia Sophia Museum with our tour guide, Mehmet.
Mehmet’s job was to provide interesting facts about everything we saw while in Turkey, and boy, he delivered. He made really ancient history so interesting that my oldest daughter listened and even retained the information. She mentioned liking history because of him! Mehmet told us entertaining and hilarious stories about all things wickedly old.
Jetlag prevented my brain from retaining very many facts about the Hagia Sophia Museum but the official website explains its history for the curious. (See Related Topics at the end of this post for the link.) All I know is how impressed I was that a building can be so old and have survived different rulers, different religions and, of course, earthquakes!
Entering through the big, heavy doors, it was hard to know where to look first—there were so many different areas to take in. The attention to detail in the artwork was overwhelming. Between the beautiful stained glass windows and the mosaics with Jesus and Mary, to the amazing scrollwork, there truly is something for everyone to see.
Because we were traveling with a group, we were only given about 45 minutes to look around. I definitely felt rushed in such an immense museum. Of course, the group of kids we were with ran right up to a stray because, goodness knows, we flew 15 hours to see a cat! I probably have 15 pictures of my girls with the cat.
Little did we know on that first day that all the museums and ruins in both Turkey and Greece have many stray animals roaming about. They are not feral; they were all very social and friendly.
After enjoying the downstairs with the group, I walked up the long pathway with my girls to the upper gallery where the women worshipped away from the men. The wide open view down to the museum below and across the Turkish rooftops was delightful.
No trip would be complete without a quick peek in the gift store and/or the refreshment stand. My family and I have one tradition and we are adamant about adhering to it: we buy one thing from each museum gift shop we see. From the Hagia Sophia, one of the girls bought a bookmark . . . because nothing says Turkey like a bookmark!
If I ever travel to Turkey again, I will definitely put visiting the Hagia Sophia on the top of my to-do list, and be sure to make the time to take in more of its rich history and tranquil beauty. It was one of my favorite destinations while we stayed in Turkey, and I regret not asking Mehmet for more time to explore its vastness. After getting to know our guide a bit better during the week, I am sure he would have let us linger a little longer.
Be sure to at least visit the museum’s home page image. The building is stunning!
Cathie Nichols (aka @Bloggoneit) is an author-in-training and is in the process of writing a book. Sometimes overwhelmed with three kids, a husband, a dog, a cat, and an overactive imagination, she finds her sanity by escaping life through a super sappy movie or tweeting about twending topics.