Translated as The Church of Holy Wisdom, which is found in the stunning city of Istanbul, is also known as the Ayasofya Museum, is universally acknowledged as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world as well as being considered the Eighth Wonder of the World.
A former Eastern Orthodox church was the largest Cathedral in the world for almost a thousand years until it was overtaken by the Seville Cathedral in 1520. The building, which was designed by architects Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, contained a large collection of holy relics as well as a 15 metre silver iconostasis, which is a portable icon stand which is home to religious paintings and icons.
In 1453, Istanbul was conquered by the Ottoman Turks and Sultan Mehmed II ordered the building to be converted into a mosque. Everything documenting the Church's past was removed (the bells, altar, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels) and many of the mosaics were plastered over.
The Islamic features - such as the mihrab, the minbar, and the four minarets outside - were added over the course of its history under the Ottomans. It remained as a mosque until 1935, when it was converted into a museum by the Republic of Turkey and thankfully all the plaster which was used to hide the original mosaics was painstakingly removed by expert restorers.
Once you get inside make sure you heard for the vast nave, which is covered by an impressive dome which appears weightless by the 40 arched windows under it, which flood the colourful interior with light.
The dome itself has spurred interest from many art historians and architects as it is supported by pendentives which had never been used before and enables the round dome to transition gracefully into the square shape of the piers below.
The church was richly decorated with mosaics throughout the centuries. They either depicted the Virgin Mother, Jesus, Saints, or emperors and empresses. Other parts were decorated in a purely decorative style with geometric patterns.
The mosaics well worth a visit are Virgin Mother and Child, The Emperor Alexander mosaic, which is quite difficult to find on your first visit but can be seen in the upper parts close to the ceiling and depicts Emperor Alexander in full regalia, holding a skull in his left hand.
Restorers have attempted to maintain a balance between both Christian and Islamic cultures but an ongoing arguments concerns the removal of the Islamic calligraphy on the dome of the cathedral should be removed, in order to expose the underlying mosaic of Christ as Master of the World.
Although the Hagia Sophia has been through various restorations, it is no less beautiful today as it was on the day it was built, if not more so due to its long history as both a church and a mosque.
It is one of the unique places in the world where you can experience the wonders of two religions in one beautiful place, and as it is located in a thriving tourist resort, there are plenty of places to stay nearby so finding it won't be difficult.
FemaleFirst - Ruth Harrison