Where: Istanbul, Turkey
History: Islam take over a former Christian monument
Don’t Miss: A poke in the healing hole
Aya Sophia, the Holy Church of Wisdom, is possibly the most amazing building in Istanbul. It was the greatest church in Christendom, called the Cathedral of Byzantium Constantinople and built a thousand years before St. Peters in Rome in 500 AD. Situated overlooking the Black Sea, it’s a dramatic and romantic location.
When the Ottomans conquered Istanbul in 1453, their leader Mehmet headed straight into Aya Sophia and ordered it to be cleansed and changed into a mosque for Islam. Today it is a museum.
Over the years, minarets were added. The Christian mosaics were plastered in accordance with the Koran which forbids images of humans in a place of worship. The only remaining feature from the Turkish conquest is the sculpted frieze over the south portal. Fragments of images of Christ Pantokraor and the 11st century Empress Zoe remain. Now the originals mosaics are being restored.
It is said that an image of St Gregory the miracle worker appeared near a certain pillar in the church. Over the centuries, pilgrims have put their fingers in the cavity believing the moisture will cure eye diseases and infertility. It is probaby inadvisable not to poke your finger in the hole, as many diseased hands have touched it!