The Grand Hagia Sophia - The Church of Holy Wisdom
Istanbul stands in the center of the two continents and in the center of Istanbul stands the grand Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophias has been described as the 'architectural wonder' - the gem of the Byzantine empire, later the proud possession of the Ottomans and now the symbol of secular Turkey. The building has stood at the heart of the empire that laid claim on it.
Justinian's word still ring in the columns of Hagia Sophia, "My Lord, thank you for giving me chance to create such a worshipping place." Pleased of his finest creation, he said proudly, "Süleyman, I beat you." At the spot where two previous churches each ravaged by riots and fire, the Emperor ordered the building of Hagia Sophia in 532 AD. Completed within 6 years, Hagia Sophia was the crowning glory of Byzantine empire.
Such was the allure of Hagia Sophia that when Mehmet, the conqueror entered victorious into the city of Constantinople his first stop was the church of Hagia Sophia. A muslim priest was called in to read to Shahada and the Eastern Orthodox Cathedral that stood for 1000 years was now a mosque. There onwards, the grand structure of Sophia Hagia inspired the many other mosques built in Istanbul during the Ottoman rein, all looking like the prodigies of Hagia Sophia.
When Kemal Ataturk secularized Turkey, he converted Aya Sophia into a museum opening its doors to all sending out the message that Hagia Sophia was indeed a heritage of the world.
Even though the building is not an official place of worship, it continues to be contested upon by the Islamists and the Greek Orthodox Christians. For a traveler, like myself, the building is an awe-inspiring grandeur that has a spirit of its own - unfallen, untarnished, unbeaten. We are the privileged ones who can see the images of Virgin Mary at the altar of what was the Christianity's grandest cathedral for 1000 years alongside the Mihrab for believers who prayed here for 500 years. The tracks of Byzantine emperors throne with the Ottoman Sultan's lodge, the giant calligraphic panels hanging from the pillars with the mosaics on the ceilings peering from behind the plaster tell us so much. The wise pillars of the Hagia Sophia that stood testimony to rising and falling kingdoms sermonize that no one is here to stay forever and that much as you try, history cannot be silenced.
A 9th Century viking inscription in the Southern Galleria of the Hagia reads "Halvadan was here", a tell tale sign that everyone who ever entered Hagia Sophia left its mark on it. Justinian's successors painted mosaics, adding and removing sacred relics with time. The doge of Venice Dandalano who plundered the glory of Hagia Sophia sending home loads of its mosaics was buried here. Recently graffitis by a repair worker in 10th century on the top of the dome was found. "Lord, help your servant, Gregorius" it read. Ottoman kings added the plaques and inscriptions with writings from the holy Quran, installing in the halls of Hagia Sophia their exploits from other kingdoms.
Even the not so kingly who entered the doors of Hagia Sophia do as little as insert their fingers in a hole carved inside the wish column rotating their hands around it - an act that is said make wishes come true - leaving a mark of their presence behind. The bronze plate on the column is now worn out by the finger impressions but the pillar itself still stands strong testifying for the countless wishes and dreams that Hagia Sophia has made come true.