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Istanbul: City of minarets

Istanbul is all about ancient architecture, domes and rich culture.

india Updated: Jul 14, 2010 01:32 IST

Impressive minarets and domes dominate the skyline of Istanbul, and no tour to the ancient Turkish city is complete without a visit to one of the most important landmarks — the Hagia Sophia.

Built in the 6th century, it functioned as a church for more than 900 years, till the Ottoman Turks converted it into a mosque in the 15th century, and so it remained so for almost 500 years.

After the building was transformed into a museum in 1935, prayers were no longer allowed inside. The layers of plaster covering the mosaic pictures of Christ and Virgin Mary on the ceilings of the gallery, applied during the Ottoman rule, were removed in
many places to show the pictures, and the massive building was thrown open to the public.

The cathedral, built by Emperor Justinian I, is one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture. In 1453, the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, or modern-day Istanbul, and converted it into a mosque, calling it the Ayasofya.

“The Ottoman rulers did not demolish anything inside the structure; they had the greatest respect for the Christian faith. They only carefully plastered the Christian emblems inside the Hagia Sophia,” said tour guide Derya Kutukcu.

The Ottomans added the three important symbols of Islam in the building — the mihrab, or a niche in the wall pointing to the direction of Mecca; the mimbar or pulpit for the cleric; and the minaret for the azan, as well as huge discs with inscriptions in praise of Allah on it.

The Turks, after taking over the building, added huge buttresses to it to strengthen the structure and the minarets to give it the element of a mosque.