Aya Sofya is an architectural wonder, a place where Islam and Christianity fuse in the most spectacular fashion. Located at the cultural and geographic heart of Istanbul, the impressive structure dominates the skyline of the city, as well as the must-see lists of all who visit her.
The Aya Sofya visitors see today isn't actually the original, despite being built some 1300 years ago. Two original structures, built in 404 AD and 532 AD respectively, stood in the same place but were burnt to the ground during riots and revolts. The Aya Sofya we can experience today was completed in 616 by the Byzantines and was a place of worship for Christians until the Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453. It now rests as a museum honouring both its Christian and Islamic history.
Upon entry, visitors are greeted by a majestic domed space supported by intricate stained glass windows and walls sprinkled with a mosaic of some 30 million golden tiles. The giant panels of Islamic calligraphy periodically hung around the dome have been suspended there since the 19th century and, despite precious little restoration, are in remarkably good condition. They provide a fascinating contrast to the recently-uncovered Christian mosaics that can be viewed on the mezzanine level. It's well worth spending an hour or two wandering around the floors of Aya Sofya: it is regarded as one of the most impressive and important buildings ever constructed, architecturally, culturally and historically. Visitors will find no shortage of fascinating intricacies to explore.
Aya Sofya's location in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul places it in amongst some of the best attractions the city has to offer. It's directly across from the equally-impressive Blue Mosque, just down the street from the underground Basilica Cistern and a short walk from Topkapi Palace and the Byzantine Hippodrome. The easiest way to get to the area is by taking the T1 tram to Sultanahmet station.