Entering Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, I’m a bit confused. Christian and Muslim art are displayed side by side. Is this a cathedral or a mosque like Sultan Ahmed? The answer—now a state museum, the venerable building with a tumultuous history has served in both capacities. Emperor Justinian I ordered the construction of the massive Greek Orthodox Cathedral in 532. It was finished 5 years later, well before the grand cathedrals of Europe. But the current structure is the third church to be constructed on the site. Ransacked by Latin Christians during the Fourth Crusade, Hagia Sophia eventually became an imperial mosque when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople in 1453. Luckily for future visitors, much of the early artwork was plastered over during several renovations, not only preserving it but also saving the Christian scenes from desecration.
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On my visit via a Princess cruise excursion, scaffolding covers one side of the main interior at Hagia Sophia. In places, plaster in the domes still needs repair despite the 1993 UNESCO mission to restore the grand structure. And upstairs, Dan Brown fans seek out a corner of a gallery for the spot where a secret is solved that saves the world in his book, Inferno.
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Disclosure: Princess Cruise lines provided this travel experience but the opinions, as always, are my own.
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