Throughout Turkey, we saw evidence of many types of religions living, from what we could see, harmoniously. Calls to prayer from a mosque’s minaret can be heard from the steps of Catholic churches and Jewish temples sit alongside them both.

In the popular neighborhood of Sultanhamet in Istanbul reside the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Basilica Cistern. We felt kind of unprepared entering these unwieldy and grand structures. Knowledge of the Ottoman Empire and religious conquests were something we studied the history classes of yesteryear. The best we could do was use the handy audioguide to make sense of the hows and whys of the places, but alas that knowledge has already slipped from our minds as we write this.

The Hagia Sophia is a massive and ornate structure. It used to be a Catholic basilica then the Ottomans took over and converted it into a mosque, covering the mosaics of the Virgin Mary and the Apostles (among others) with flowing calligraphy of Quaranic verses and building many of the traditional components of a mosque like the mihrab and minbar. What could be perceived as complete desecration of a religious structure by another conquering religious group is telling of the turmoil of a former era. We saw the structure for its unique features — the parallels of two faith traditions, restored and preserved, breathtaking in its grandeur. We spent several hours at the Hagia Sophia marveling the product of the history that we did not necessarily understand completely, but embraced because of its magnificent outcome.

Steps from the Hagia Sophia stood the Basilica Cistern. The first thought that crossed our minds when trying to find this landmark, what’s a cistern? It took us a while to find it because, as we discovered, a cistern is simply an underground water tank.  The building leading us to the cistern was rather small, but as we made our way down the damp steps, we entered into a huge cavern. The Basilica Cistern, no longer in use, was one of the largest in Istanbul.

Now decorated with multi-colored spotlights and coy fish in the water, we strolled along the paths to one of the main attractions of the spot – the carvings of Medusa into two of the cement poles. Exactly how these carvings got there is still unknown (not just to us!) but these little guys thought it was pretty cool and we did too.

We saw many mosques in the Maldives, but the Blue Mosque was the first we ever entered. Wary of causing any novice snafus we ran through the checklist several times before we entered: Shoes off? Check. Carmela’s hair covered? Check. Not prayer time? Check? Visitor entrance? Double check. Even though we were only allowed in the designated visitor area, we still saw all the intricate designs within the mosque and took in the feeling of holiness and sanctity within it.



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