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We’ll I’m starting this year off with a total blog fail! I apologize for not blogging for so long. I was hoping to finish posting about our trip to Istanbul but our Christmas trip around Europe got in the way : ) That just means that there’s more to come – pictures from around Czech, Vienna, Dresden, Crimmitschau – and not to mention memories made with my parents in Munich, Salzburg, and Venice!!! So I hope this was all worth the wait!!

Before I return to Istanbul I have to wish everyone a belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year:

ChristmasYep that’s our Christmas card! I dragged Scott out into the desert by our school, set up the tripod, and got this great shot!

Alright, alright – and now, finally we return to November 30 and our second day in Istanbul . . .

The Hagia Sophia was truly the number one thing I wanted to do while in Istanbul. Our hotel was only a 30 min walk from Hagia Sophia or an even shorter tram ride. This was a church when Istanbul was Constantinople, but during the Ottoman Empire it was turned into a Mosque. Today it is a museum and not used as a house of worship. They have removed some of the plaster to reveal the mosaic tiles form when this was a church and the building now is a really wonderful mix of both Christianity and Islam. Hagia Sophia DSCN0133I was supper bummed once we got inside though because they were doing renovations on the left side of the building. This took a little away from the experience but overall this building is truly breathtaking.

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DSCN9943Like I said before I really loved how you could see how this was a church and how this was a mosque. There seems to be so much animosity between Christianity and Islam and I found it both peaceful and beautiful to see them together in this building. I loved seeing the detailed painted plaster and the revealed mosaic tiles. To see Arabic calligraphy alongside painted angels.

DSCN9935The renovations:
DSCN9915After walking around the ground flood we decided to go up and explore the views from the second level. On this level we were able to get a closer view of the painted ceilings and mosaics.

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DSCN0015 DSCN0024 What we loved so much about Istanbul is that everything seem to be a mix of culture, religion, and history. It is the only city in the world to span two continents – Europe on one side of the Bosphorus Strait and Asia on the other. In addition numerous empires have called this city home including the Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman. The Hagia Sophia not only represents the mix of religion in the city but also the mix of history containing elements from both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.

For example, the picture below is made up of small delicate mosaic tiles (of which the gold ones shimmer in the sunlight). This mosaic features Empress Zoe (one of three Byzantine women to rule) and Constantine IX (whose predecessor Constantine the Great was part of the Roman Empire) with Christ in the middle.

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Sadly I don’t have time to share all my Hagia Sophia pictures, but I will share one last set of pictures showcasing both Islam, Christianity, and the deep history here. The last mosaic is of Constantine (on the right) offering the city of Constantinople to the Virgin Mary and Christ Child and Justinian (on the left) offering them the Hagia Sophia. Enjoy . . .

DSCN0051mosaic 2After spending too much time in the Hagia Sophia we decided to go underground and explore the Basilica Cistern. This underground cistern was built in the 500s during the Byzantine Empire. It was built to hold water, but the amazing thing is that they used these beautiful Roman columns and there are even, mysteriously, two Medusa heads at the bottom of two of the pillars. While underground we could hear the car and trams and people still bustling around above us. There were even fish swimming around the water while we were down there. (I apologize for how red the pictures are, they used red lights to illuminate the cistern).

DSCN0116medusa headAt this point we were getting hungry so we decided to stop for a late lunch/early dinner down by the Galata Bridge. We walked down to the water (about another 20-30min walk from Hagia Sophia – we ended up taking the tram back from there).

DSCN0143DSCN0147I absolutely loved this bridge because, as you can see in the picture below, for more than half of it the restaurants sit rested under the bridge! Of course they all serve delicious sea food and you gotta love all the people fishing off the top! It was a great atmosphere and a great place to catch the sunset while eating dinner.

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DSCN0158 DSCN0163galata bridgeOur second day in Istanbul was full of history, religion, and relaxation. Stay tuned – more coming to you soon : )

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