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We arrived in Istanbul early in the morning. We disembarked from the ship, left our bags at the hotel, and took a cab into the Sultanahmet district of the city. We spent the morning at the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art. It was nice to be able to look at Turkish carpets (many of them hundreds of years old) without being hassled by hovering salesmen.

In the afternoon, we visited Hagia Sophia. According to our guidebook, Hagia Sophia was the largest enclosed space in the world for almost a thousand years. It was built in the sixth century under the direction of the Byzantine emperor Justinian. In 1453, the church became a mosque after the Turks captured the city. It became a museum in 1934.
Many areas once covered in gold or mosaics are crumbling after centuries of neglect. In the 19th century, some areas of missing mosaics were restored with painted copies.

Inside the dome, restoration work in underway to stabilize the structure after the 1998 earthquake. The central dome is 180 feet tall, supported by external buttresses.

The mosaic below and to the right is one of the best preserved in the upper galleries. It shows the Virgin and Child between Emperor John Comnenus and the Empress Irene.

Marble was brought from all over the Byzantine empire to decorate the church.
Here's Kimberly walking through the second floor galleries.

Across the street from Hagia Sophia and down some steps is the Basilica Cistern. It was probably built in the fourth century, using materials scavenged from other buildings. The Medusa head to the right used to be under several feet of water.

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