Mosque Monday – Hagia Sophia

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Mosque Monday is a month-long series through Ramadan where I am sharing some of the beautiful mosques that I have visited.

Istanbul is a city that has a very special place in my core. It is not only because it was one of the stops that my husband and I visited on our wonderful honeymoon a little over 5 years ago, although that certainly does help with my deep romance with the city. But more than that, there is something near mystic about Istanbul that burrows into your soul when you spend any time in its splendor. Napoleon once said, “If the Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.” And to my mind, if Istanbul were a single person, the Hagia Sophia would be its heart.

Bob and Kelly

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There are so many beautiful sites in Istanbul, and I visited several mosques in my short 36 hours in the city that are gorgeous and rife with reasons to urge you to visit – some may be even more posh to share as “hidden gems” – but despite all of that, if you were to visit Istanbul an not visit the Hagia Sophia, it would be a true crime. For this reason, and because of its wealth of history and its unique cross-religion beauty (largely due to some of the darkness in its history) it has won out to be shared with you tonight.

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The Hagia Sophia was built in 537 AD, which means that it is almost 1500 years old (I hope to get back there before then, but I have just put a reminder on my calendar to visit in 2037 so that I can celebrate her 1500th birthday with this gorgeous piece of history).  The Hagia Sophia was originally constructed and lived the first 900 years of her life as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral, aside from a 57 year blip after the Fourth Crusade where it operated as a Roman Catholic cathedral. In 1453, Istanbul (then Constantinople) was conquered by the Ottoman Empire and thus the cathedral became a mosque.

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The transition from religion to religion has created a beautiful masterpiece that now speaks to the tolerance of modern-day Turkey. Although Turkey proudly enjoys its Muslim government, its 1982 constitution established it as a secular state that prohibits religious discrimination. The Hagia Sophia stands as an impressive example of the appreciation an acceptance of religious difference. In every corner of her beauty, the layers of her experience lay bare, showcasing the mutuality of a reverence for God between all those that have utilized her walls as a conduit to the Holy.

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Now, this beautiful blend of religion is not without its controversy. The Hagia Sophia currently operates as a museum, as it as for more than 80 years. In its function as a museum, it is open to all and does not actively function as mosque. For many years, there has been a push among more conservative Muslims to reconvert the Hagia Sophia into an active mosque. This desire gained even more steam in the past several years, following President Trump’s controversial decision for the United States to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel (as opposed to Tel Aviv, which most other countries utilize for their embassies in an effort to remain neutral in view of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict).

Hagia Sophia Outside

In addition to her interesting religious history, the Hagia Sophia is also exceptional in her size. While impressive from the outside, it is the view from within the cathedral-made-mosque that creates a near-transcendental experience. The doors alone seem impossible in their scale.

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Hagia Sophia ceiling

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Juxtaposed against the impressive nature of the grandness of the structure of the mosque is the very fine details throughout the building. In every direction there is a new stunning facet to discover.

 

One of my favorite features of the Hagia Sophia is the chandeliers. Chandeliers are beautiful feature in many mosques around the world (even the more recently built mosques, as described in my Mosque Monday post about the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi). Chandeliers are likewise a feature of cathedrals throughout the ages. The fixtures are impressive, but the former waitress in me feels deeply for the candle lighters through the ages!

Finally, the view from within the Hagia Sophia is not to be missed. As I mentioned at the outset, beautiful mosques are abound within Istanbul, and it is not a surprise that another iconic mosque, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (more commonly known as the Blue Mosque) can be viewed through her ancient windows.

All in all, the Hagia Sophia is a site that is not to be missed. Check back in next Monday for a look at another gorgeous mosque. Till then, Ciao Ciao, Darling!

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Mosque Monday: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

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I think my religious philosophy is most in line with a quote from the 13th century Persian poet Rumi:

“I looked in temples, churches and mosques. But I found the Divine within my heart.”

While I don’t ascribe to a firm doctrine when it comes to faith (I’m more of the “spiritual but not religious” type), I do find something incomparably majestic in visiting temples, churches and mosques alike. Many of the mosques here in the States are modest in adornment, but there are mosques all across the globe that have architecture and design that literally take your breath away. So, during the month-long holy event of Ramadan (which this year is from April 23 – May 23), I will be featuring one of the beautiful mosques that I have been lucky enough to visit each Monday in a feature I am calling Mosque Monday.

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This isn’t about religion for me, but it is about honoring the beauty that religion can inspire. To me, it is that Divine in all of our hearts that connects us. And there is no way to not feel connected when you set your bare foot inside a stunning mosque.

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In April 2015, my husband and I enjoyed a wonderful long layover in Abu Dhabi. We had about 22 hours on our way back from Thailand and we decided to make the most of our limited time in such a cool place. The very top of our very short bucket list was the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

When most people think of the UAE, I think the first word that comes to mind is luxury. Things are expected to look new, pristine and grand. The aptly named Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is all of those things. Built between 1996 and 2007, it is by far the youngest mosque I have ever visited, but what it lacks in age, it makes up for in splendor.

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The carpet felt like a dream on my blistered feet!

As with all mosques, you must take your shoes off before entering. Often the carpet is silky, but nearing threadbare. Not in the Grand Mosque, however. The carpet under your toes is thick and plush, and at over 60,000 square feet (yes, you read that right – 60 THOUSAND square feet), it is famed to be the largest carpet in the world.

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Every where you look, there are more unbelievably beautiful details. Mother of pearl inlaid marble, intricately carved wood, and chandeliers that are adorned with Swarovski crystal.

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The vista outside the Mosque is probably even more stunning that the inside, and it looks different, but equally spectacular, at different times of the day. We were luck enough to have our visit coincide with sunset, which allowed us to experience it against the hazy pink sky, but also to enjoy the majesty of the reflecting pools illuminated in the evening.

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But aside from all of the grandeur, the most impressive element of the Grand Mosque is how unbelievably inviting it is. It is a fully functioning religious building, but there is a significant attention devoted to education and sharing its beauty with Muslims and non-Muslims alike. In my experience, you usually have to find an amazing local guide to make you feel really welcome in a mosque as a non-Muslim, but at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, all are embraced and welcome to share in the Divine that they have to offer.

The Grand Mosque is truly breathtaking, but it is just one of the stunning mosques that I have been fortunate enough to visit. Check back in next Monday for a look at another equally beautiful (but remarkably different) mosque. Till then, Ciao Ciao, Darling!

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