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From the time-machine: Istanbul’s Aya Sofia

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Two years ago we decided to spend Christmas in Istanbul, and I was thinking about it earlier today. Of course, I also went back to Istanbul with my good friend Sarah this past September, so I have more recent memories as well.  I really love Istanbul. No, I mean I REALLY LOVE Istanbul. If I wasn’t living in London, I could very easily be convinced that the Bosphorus was the place for me. 🙂

So here are a few pictures from the Aya Sofia, (follow the link for all the information about the site). It was built as a Christian church in the year 537 during the Byzantine Empire. It was a Greek Orthodox Basilica until the year 1453, when Byzantium was conquered by the Ottoman Turks and the city became known as Constantinople. At that time, the Aya Sofia was converted into a mosque. Many of the religious icons in the church were destroyed, but some of the most beautiful mosaics were simply plastered over, which actually protected them quite well. The building served as a mosque until 1931, when it was closed for four years. In 1935 it was reopened as a museum, although it is the building and it’s history that is being preserved, not any collections inside. (There are some snarky comments on TripAdvisor about people who are expecting a traditional museum experience – clearly they didn’t do their homework!)

Some of the largest and most impressive doors I have ever seen. I like the arrows telling you which way to go. Those Byzantines had good way-finding!

Some of the largest and most impressive doors I have ever seen. I like the arrows telling you which way to go. Those Byzantines had good way-finding!

To give you a sense of scale.... Alex is just about 6 feet tall!

To give you a sense of scale…. Alex is just about 6 feet tall! Notice how the marble in the center of the floor is worn down from centuries of foot traffic.

Looking down into the main space. It's fascinating because many of the Christian and Islamic remnants are still visible, coexisting side-by-side.

Looking down into the main space. It’s fascinating because many of the Christian and Islamic remnants are still visible, coexisting side-by-side.

I love the detailed stonework. It looks like lace, but it's carved from rock.

I love the detailed stonework. It looks like lace, but it’s carved from rock.

One of the most well-preserved Christian mosaics.

One of the most well-preserved Christian mosaics.

They have these hanging chandeliers in the main space,  which creates the odd effect of a false ceiling. It minimizes the vastness of the space, but offers much needed light during the winter days.

They have these hanging chandeliers in the main space, which creates the odd effect of a false ceiling. It minimizes the vastness of the space, but offers much needed light during the winter days.

A view of the arches that support the large, interior dome.

A view of the arches that support the large, interior dome.

This must be one of the most popular spots to take a photograph in Istanbul - with the Aya Sofia in the background!

This must be one of the most popular spots to take a photograph in Istanbul – with the Aya Sofia in the background!

Luckily for me, Alex has a work trip to Istanbul next fall, so I’ll definitely be going back again!

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A Confession about Churches (appropriate, no?)

You know how people often say “I know you better than you know yourself?” but you don’t really believe them, but it’s maybe true?  I had a moment like when we were in Berlin.  I was totally geeking out when we visited the Berliner Dom, taking about a million pictures, when Alex told me that I was a Cathedral Nut.  At first I started to argue, but then I just gave up.  Okay, fine. I love cathedrals, churches, mosques, synagogues — bring it on.  I admit this is a little odd since I am an Atheist, but what can I say. I am what I am.  Which is apparently an Atheist Cathedral Nut.  But don’t tell anyone.

I don’t know much about the history of the Berliner Dom, except that it was only built in 1905, which is fairly recent when you think about European cathedrals.  I really loved this building — it’s opulent and over the top, but tasteful at the same time.  We got some really great pictures of the exterior at night, and it’s quite spooky in the snow! The River Spree, which runs right next to the Dom, was full of ice chunks that were moving quite quickly.  The interior of the church is unique because it’s round, rather than having a long apse and nave in the traditional shapes. I really loved that, as it makes everything much closer and more intimate.  I won’t go into too much detail here. Instead I’ll let you enjoy the picture in a nifty slideshow!

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A bit of irreverence from York Minster

Don't mind me, I'm just an important bishop, lounging here and exposing my fleshy inner thigh to the little angels...

There's never anything to do around here. I've been sitting here in my stylish Roman sandals for ages now ... when can we go home?

OMG, did they depict me wearing a dress on my tomb? Did they not read the inscription? Look at me! I have a beard! I'm a man!! At least they could have made it a fashionable dress, but noooo.....

Such an unfortunate name.

Being dead is so boring.

Oh dear, there does appear to be an unsightly bulge in my cloak…

Do you see the fleshy inner thigh of that bishop across the nave? How shocking!