The Sights of Classic Sophistication
It’s hard to imagine visiting İstanbul, a city steeped in historical culture and significance, without visiting two sought-after attractions. The Ayasofya Camii and İstanbul Archaeology Museums are both within walking distance of each other. After spending several hours in both, you will amaze yourself and be brought back to a world of rare antiquity and beauty. So let’s take a visit to these classical wonders of the world.
The Ayasofya Grand Mosque (Hagia Sophia), and what used to be referred to in history, the Church of Divine Wisdom, is an impressive expression of religious faith and one of the greatest architectural wonders in the world. It’s an incredible structure that has stood the test of time, in particular as its dome was the largest feat of engineering in the world and an architectural marvel , it defines the heart and soul of old İstanbul, combining the characteristics of a city that spans time, continent, and culture
The Ayasofya up to recently has come full circle in its journey of transformation. Originally built by the Eastern Roman Emperor Constantius I as an Orthodox church, it had survived an earthquake, fire, and revolt for 916 years before being converted into the Ayasofya Mosque in 1453. Four minarets were added and the huge, domed building, the largest in the world, remained a mosque until 1934. Atatürk proclaimed that the mosque was to become a museum housing symbols of both religions side by side to pacify both religions. Then recently, in 2020, Ayasofya’s journey finally came full circle, when it was announced as a Mosque once again.
One can simply admire the spectacle of the dome of the Ayasofya, it is ingenuity at its finest. From the balcony above the main entrance, a wooden ramp provides a spectacular view of the main atrium and nave. Bathed in diffuse golden light, the people gathered below can appreciate the size of the building. The central dome is 55.6 m above the museum floor and is supported by four triangular segments of a spherical surface, an architectural feat, adorned with winged cherubs. The Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia) is one of the earliest examples of the use of the ‘pendentive’ in architecture.
Ancient frescoes and gilded mosaics of the Virgin Mary and Christ, restored after the mosque was converted into a museum, sit beneath the magnificent dome alongside 19th-century leather medallions. More mosaics have gradually been uncovered lining the upper gallery, giving a sense of the splendour of the original decoration inside what was once the church.
Forty individual windows at the base of the dome open up the depth perspective and allow the optical heaviness to dissolve into a floating space of light. Golden mosaics allow the light to shimmer and direct it onto multi-coloured polished panelling and marble columns that collect and reflect it.
It’s a majestic, beautiful building that inspires awe and where one can feel compelled to linger in for a while, even after seeing all there is to see, just to soak up a sense of time and place and the essence of old İstanbul.
Meanwhile, the İstanbul Archaeological Museums are one of the city’s most important historical complexes, whose collections contain at least one million unique exhibits belonging to the various civilisations that once flourished on the territory of present-day Türkiye and the former eras of Turkish history.
Today, the İstanbul Archaeological Museums are the city’s most popular museums and attractions. It is located amidst the sights of the metropolis near the famous Topkapı Palace. There is no room for boredom here because the exhibitions of the complex take you through hundreds of years into the past. You will feel like you have stepped into a time machine. But you will be immersed in a story of history and art of the most powerful empires of antiquity.
The Museums are divided into three main galleries: archaeological, tiled, and ancient oriental. The first section of the museum contains many exhibits from ancient Rome including the busts of the conqueror Alexander the Great, the emperor Marcus Aurelius, the poet Sappho and the founder of the Roman Empire, Octavian Augustus, are well preserved.
The Department of the Ancient East is a spacious hall. The most valuable exhibits are the sarcophagi, including the Lycian tomb from the 5th century, the sarcophagus of the “Sorrowing Woman” with the carved image of a sobbing woman, and the sarcophagus of Alexander the Great.
The Museum of Ancient Oriental Studies also displays mummies of Egyptian pharaohs, obelisks, and artefacts from Mesopotamia, gravestones, jewellery, and cuneiform tablets from various ancient countries. A part of the façade of the Ishtar Gate from ancient Babylon, decorated with images of mythical animals, is considered one of the most valuable exhibits.
The building of the third section of the museum is interesting in itself: it is a 15th century building that once served as a lounge for the sultans in the Topkapı Palace. Various clay products are displayed in the tiled art pavilion, one can admire the famous İznik ceramic tiles that were used to decorate the interiors of such famous buildings as the Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque) and the Rüstem Pasha Mosque. The pavilion displays ceramic works by Ottoman and Seljuk masters as well as later examples of Anatolian craftsmanship.
A visit to the İstanbul Archaeological Museum with its rich collection of many unique exhibits that cannot be found in any other museum in the world, makes it an unmissable experience.