after arriving in Istanbul on an overnight flight, we decided the best way to beat our jet lag was to get out and see the city. I was dazed, trying to take in all the new sights and smells, and lugging around my zoom lens which I kept forgetting was attached to my camera. everything was so different. completely unlike any other place I had ever visited before. and aside from the general disorientation of being in a new place, it was just overwhelming to finally be in Turkey, as this trip had been 10 years in the making.
we started with two of Istanbul's most iconic sights: the Hagia Sofia and the Sultan Ahmed [or Blue] Mosque. I think most bloggers would dedicate a post to each of these structures, but for me they are inextricably linked. [and to be honest, almost blurred together in a jet lag haze.] it's more than just geographic proximity - these buildings share immense domes, towering minarets, and more history than my brain can compute.
you have to begin with the Hagia Sofia, or Ayasofya. the current structure is nearly 1500 years old, and one of the most impressive surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. while the Hagia Sofia started life as a cathedral, it was converted to a mosque by the Ottomans when they took over Constantinople in the 1400s. the Christian mosaics and decorations were plastered and painted over and minarets were built outside. but with the birth of the Republic of Turkey, the Hagia Sofia [as well as several other churches which had been converted to mosques] were relinquished to the government and restored as museums. what you can see today is a blend of these histories - the layers of cathedral, mosque, museum.
even though it was under renovations when we visited, the scale of the dome and the incredible craftsmanship in all the carvings and marble decoration was just breathtaking. and the influence of its architecture extends beyond the Byzantines. the domed structure of the Hagia Sofia became the model for much of the Ottoman Empire's architecture - including that of the nearby Blue Mosque.
the Sultan Ahmed Mosque was constructed in the 1600s, just a short distance from the Hagia Sofia. the thousands of blue patterned tiles which decorate the interior have supposedly given it the nickname of "the Blue Mosque." I know I just said the Hagia Sofia was a structural inspiration for the mosque - but these buildings are also starkly different. the first is heavy and solid with patterned marble and gold paint, while the second floats on dainty motifs and swirling calligraphy.
visiting the Blue Mosque was overwhelming from start to finish for me, and not just from the jet lag. it was my first time, ever, in a mosque. I was both excited for a new experience and nervous that I would inadvertently do something offensive. we wrapped ourselves up and my jaw dropped as soon as we set foot inside. I must have spent 5 minutes just staring, craning my neck towards the ceiling, before even picking up my camera.
as I was shooting, I realized I wasn't doing justice to either of these monuments. I'm sure you will argue that my photos are lovely as always... but trust me when I tell you that these places cannot be fully appreciated without physically being there. 17mm was not wide enough to take it all in. y'all know I'm a sucker for the details and I would have spent years trying to capture everything in these buildings.
we had actually hoped to return [and shoot more photos] but life had other plans for our trip. I'm glad I had a chance to see both the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, and to see them first. our visit was enough to fascinate me with the depth of history Istanbul holds, and begin what turned into a blue tile obsession. these two structures don't encompass all of what the city has to hold - but they are certainly a good place to start.