STAFF / Historic/Museums / EURASIA

From Church to Mosque to Museum: A Visit to the Hagia Sophia

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.

Interior of Hagia Sophia

Wide-open view of the interior of Hagia Sophia

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.

Ceiling detail in the Hagia Sophia

Your neck will be sore after looking up so often at the beautiful artwork!

Details on the walls and ceiling of the Hagia Sophia

Left: Look at the exquisite detail on the walls downstairs.
Right: Details on the ceiling of the pathway. Each little square is a separate piece.

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.

Doorways, Hagia Sophia

Beautiful doorways

Jesus captured in mosaic, Hagia Sophia

Jesus captured in mosaic

Stained glass window, Hagia Sophia

Each stained glass window had the same fate when the church was made a mosque: covered in plaster. Later to be restored to their former beauty.

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.

Museum cat

Museum cat with a fellow traveler

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.

Women's area, Hagia Sophia

Left: Pathway to the women’s area
Right: Window on the pathway to the women’s area

Reserved for rulers, Hagia Sophia

Elevated room where a ruler and his family would attend services

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!

Hagia Sophia Museum

Cathie Nichols

Cathie Nichols


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.

Tags: ,


  1. Wow! The Hagia Sophia Museum is very impressive! I just love old buildings. Your photos are lovely. I have to admit though, I would be one of the first to go visit with the cat…LOL

    Great article! Thank you!

    • Thank you, Betsy! The Hagia Sophia is truly a world wonder. Its beauty was definitely not captured through my unskilled use of a digital camera — these photos do not do this museum justice.

      I know the Blue Mosque is an ancient building that many people know about in Istanbul(and they’re right across the street from each other) but I preferred the darkness and the stone details of the Hagia Sophia. I also loved the mishmash of the religions.

      Truly, should I ever make it back to Turkey, I will be visiting this museum again and will expect to stay a few hours with a couple minutes dedicated to the adorable cats!

  2. Cathie,
    Turkey was on my partner’s top 10 list for years and we finally went about 5 years ago. What a place! Hagia Sofia in Istanbul was just amazing. Like you, we had a guide who brought history to life.
    What special memories you and your girls must have taking such a trip together!

    • We definitely have a lot of memories of Turkey and Greece. I will cherish them forever especially since my older daughter is in college and my middle daughter became a teen earlier this year.

      Turkey is a wonderful country with an incredible history and I hope to make it back one day!

  3. How wonderful that you had an opportunity like this – for you AND your daughters! Isn’t it funny about the cat? I remember asking a child what her favorite part of visiting a zoo was….it was the pigeons roaming around begging for your lunch! Go figure!

    I look forward to your next installment!

    • Hi, Ann.

      We had a cat at every place we visited and then puppies at Troy! I swear even the leader was thinking about taking a puppy all the way back to California. I’m not sure the little pet would have made it the 15 hours of flights but many people definitely thought about making him try.

      The animals were all very friendly and we heard from some of the shopkeepers that they feed them. Although they didn’t look as fat as my cat, and as large as my dog, they did still look healthy.

      The only exception was a small cat with some type of weepy skin condition. One little girl in another group from Italy placed her hand right on the gross area. Although I don’t speak Italian, I got the parent’s attention, then brought out my hand sanitizer, pointed to it, then pointed to the little girl, and then to the cat’s icky area. The parents were grateful because they had not seen her touch the cat.

      Fun memories at every stop! LOL.

  4. Bernadine says:

    Great interesting article from a whole other perspective. Looking forward to reading more about your travels.

  5. Really you’re an amateur and excellent visitor, which i like more. I think, these historical places carry the heritage of world village. Thanks for your experienced expression.

    • Yes, Orlando, I am definitely an amateur as it comes to traveling and any kind of world history. History was my least favorite subject in school, and it should come as no surprise that English and writing were my favorite subjects.

      I am not sure if I retained anything historical from my youth, and definitely not much about countries that are outside of the U.S. Not a very big picture thinker when I was young.

      Now, I see history as a story about what happened in past. I just said this very thing at the dinner table last night to my daughter who was groaning about all the history she will have to learn.

      I love your comment, “these historical places carry the heritage of the world village.” That is quote worthy, and I may steal it in order to promote my post on Twitter. I hope you don’t mind!

  6. Cathie, this is a wonderful article. I loved the photos. I can’t wait to read your article on Greece 🙂

    • Thank you for the comments, Teresa. It makes it that much sweeter to write when you know someone is actually reading what you’ve written.

      I hope to have the new article out soon. I’ve been finding so many more “interesting” things to do like clean my screens, scrub the bathrooms, folding laundry, etc. In other words, I’m a procrastinator. What I find, though, is that as long as I have the first sentence done, the whole rest of the article just flows, so I’m waiting for that moment — hopefully it comes when the toilet brush is in my hand!

Leave a Reply to Teresa Davis Cancel

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *