Wednesday, February 27, 2013

turkey: istanbul, part one


I am extremely excited to kick off my Istanbul series with this first post on three of my favorite sites: Chora church, Hagia Sofia, and the Blue Mosque. Just as a quick background for most of you that probably don't know, my husband and I spent the first two months of our marriage living in Istanbul, while he worked on a project there in the city.

It was a fantastic couple of months. I was blessed with the once in a lifetime opportunity to explore an extremely foreign land, full of culture, color, and extraordinary history.

This first picture (above) is of the Chora Church. I've put this first, because it is was one of my favorites. I remember talking to our cab driver that day, who told us that Chora was by far his favorite church/museum (and he was a native of the city). He said that it doesn't get enough recognition, and it is truly one of the most beautiful pieces of history in Istanbul.


It truly was one of the more beautiful things I've ever seen. This 11th century church is known for its incredible mosaics of Christ, His life, and of the Virgin Mary.


Most of the time we just stood in silence, observing the mosaics and feeling memorized by the piece of history that we were standing in (and you really do have to look straight up at times to catch a glimpse at everything)


I'd recommend to others interested in visiting Chora Church, to make sure and bring a book explaining the mosaics. We had an in-depth Turkey/Istanbul travel book that day and were so glad that we did. I'm not sure if  they have any voice or guided tours at this church, but you can hire your own (most the time there are locals standing out in the parking lots that will offer to act as guides for a small hourly rate) We didn't use a tour guide, but it would have been very interesting to have someone there who knew more.

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The Virgin Mary

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11th-Century mosaic of Christ Pantocrator


As you can see, the marble in here was pretty unreal.

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He's a little bit of a nerd, and I love it more than I love most things in this world. Smart and attractive. Best combination.

For a more detailed look at the Chora Church & Museum, take a look at their website here. I believe it is 15TL (Turkish Lira) to get in (which is somewhere around $8)

Up next: Hagia Sophia


The history behind this remarkable building is actually quite sad. Some refer to this mosque as "the raped cathedral". Let me explain why.


It was originally built by Justinian I between 532 and 537 as a church--it suffered some minor damage from some earthquakes and natural disasters, but was then almost destroyed during the Latin invasion following the Forth Crusade in 1204. At that point, the church was restored under Andronicos II during the Palaeologan rule. The Hagia Sophia stood proud as the center of Eastern Christianity from 360 until the Ottoman's came in and conquered the area. The Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453 put an end to the Byzantine Empire, and therefore began the era of Islamic worship in the Hagia Sophia. It was then converted by Mehmed II into a mosque immediately after his conquest. It was during this time that they rid the structure of all Christian detail and covered over the mosaics (many of which have now been uncovered for cleaning, preservation, and recording)

That is why its history is so unique, and why it is sometimes referred to as the raped cathedral.


You can see that it was obviously made into a mosque--the Islamic detail--but you can also see the mosaics up on the ceiling to the left...and I have no idea who the dude at the bottom of the picture is :)


So, one thing about travelling as a couple--if you ever want pictures "as a couple" you have to find someone to take it, and you never quite know what you're going to get. I apologize for the poor quality of picture, but we're just happy to have them!


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One of the uncovered mosaics that has been partially preserved.



Husband and I were amazed by this pillar, I swear it could have been kicked over.


I was fascinated by the Ottoman attempt at ridding the space of all details showing Christianity. This is a picture of me trying to capture the scraped out crosses (not that guys bum)


Amazing, right? I mean, it's not hard to tell what it was, but I feel like it was more of a statement being made than something of actual accuracy. Perhaps they really thought they had people fooled, but I can't imagine that was the case.


You can see that these doors were once crosses, but were torn apart and reconstructed into arrows. Nothing quite as degrading as having someone come into your world, take pieces of you apart, refashion them, and then tell you that for the rest of your life you have to pretend to be something that you're not.

The Hagia Sophia is one of the most interesting places I have ever been. It has a very solemn, almost sad feeling to it.IMG_2837

It's an experience I will remember forever.

Last but not least: The Blue Mosque IMG_2859

Pretty unreal, right?

I recommend looking at this attraction in further detail. Take a look at TripAdvisor's reviews on the Blue Mosque here. It's the 11th top attraction in all of Istanbul! I definite must.


This website has all the detail and history of this mosque.


Again, this whole experience was life-changing for me. I've never experienced such a submersion of culture, religion, and intense history. Istanbul served as a capital of four empires: the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Latin Empire, and the Ottoman empire. It was once instrumental in the grown and advancement of Christianity, and then turned into an Islamic fortress and center point. I mean, how much more culture can you find in one location?! It's incredible.

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Husband outside of the Blue Mosque.

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This was a picture taken in between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque out on the street. Handsome man. I'm such a fan of this guy, and I thank him for the amazing opportunity and experience our time in Istanbul was. Hopefully we can return one day and reminisce on the first few months of our marriage.

I sincerely love this place so much, and I have a lot more to come from Istanbul & our other adventures in Turkey. As always, please let me know if you have any experiences to share or specific questions about Istanbul :)

Stay tuned, because next week I'm going to post pictures from our weekend trip to Cappadocia, Turkey--one of the most surreal places I've ever been! (Check out a glimpse of what it looks like here)


  1. amazing history!! i never knew so much happened in istanbul.
    thanks again for sharing, as always.


  2. [...] so if you missed my Part 1 of this series–you can check it out here (it covers the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Chora [...]