• Images of our Hagia Sofia Seminar in Istanbul

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  • Photos by Nicola Melideo

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  • images from our tour of the Hagia Sophia
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Photo by Jessica Stewart
  • images taken during our Hagia Sofia Seminar walk
  • taken from behind the hagia sofia, near the start of our walking tour there
  • Photos by Nicola Melideo
  • images from our in-depth tour of Hagia Sophia
  • images from our in-depth tour of Hagia Sophia
  • images from Istanbul's Mosaic Museum, a stop on Context's Hagia Sophia tour
  • images from Istanbul's Mosaic Museum, a stop on Context's Hagia Sophia tour

Walk Description

Originally constructed in the 6th century, the church of Hagia Sofia, or the church of Holy Wisdom, represents the highest achievements of the Byzantine Empire. Considered to be one of the architectural wonders of the world, its light-infused interior, massive dome, and mosaics have inspired and challenged scholars for centuries. During this three-hour walk of the Hagia Sofia and surrounding context we'll unfold the many layers of this structure, from its Roman beginnings to its Ottoman resurrection.

In order to fully appreciate and understand the historical context of the Hagia Sofia, we'll begin our walk with the ancient Roman hippodrome (running track) and other remnants of the Roman empire that are located nearby. Here we will discuss the rise of Constantinople in the 4th century. Elements of ancient Roman engineering and city building, such as cisterns and sewers, still remain in this area. A visit to these sites gives us the opportunity to talk about ancient Roman urban planning and the foundations that were laid for the Byzantine Empire.

We then move to the Hagia Sofia itself. Using the building as a kind of text, we will read the history of its construction, the rule of Emperor Justinian, and how the building came to be a major center for the Eastern Orthodox faith for nearly a millennium. We will pay particular attention to the architectural design and engineering of the structure, including its innovative dome, which remains one of the largest in the world. We will also spend significant time dealing with the exquisite mosaics, some of which date to the 10th century and are considered among the world's finest art treasures.

We will conclude by turning our attention to the Ottoman reinvention and rescue of the building in the 15th and 16th centuries, when it was converted into a mosque without significant rebuilding. We will emerge at the end of our walk with a deeper appreciation of this most singular building and its influence throughout history.


Duration: 3 hours
Category: History
Venues: Hagia Sophia
Incidentals: ticket to the Hagia Sofia, purchased on site- TRY30.00

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    Claire Karaz

    Claire has dual degrees in English (University of Michigan) and medieval art history (Università di Roma "La Sapienza"). She lived in Rome for a decade where she taught art history at Trinity College and study abroad programs for other American universities. She has lived in Istanbul for the last twelve years. She is presently an adjunct instructor at Yeditepe University and a freelance translator. Originally from Washington, DC, Claire is very interested in social history. She is the author of Topkapı Palace: Inside and Out, published by Citlembik in 2004.

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    ceylan zere

    Ceylan was born and raised in Istanbul and has spent much of her life wandering through its maze of busy streets and alleyways. With a background in engineering, she possesses a good knowledge of the city's built environment. She has spent many years in the United States, and although she continues traveling, her deep love is for Istanbul, its traditions, lives, characters, and the stories of the two great Empires that made the city their capital over the last two thousand years. A licensed guide for Turkey, Ceylan spends much of the year leading expeditions to archeological sites along the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts of Turkey. She is the co-author of "Turkey Guide: Confluence of Civilizations," written for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

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    Zeynep Cetrez

    Zeynep Cetrez studied the diverse populations of Ottoman Turkey and has a special interest in the 19th century travel accounts and urban history. She has a history master's degree from Sabanci University (Istanbul) and art history master's degree from Rice University (Houston).

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    Ebru Gokteke

    Ebru has a background in journalism and was a writer for many years for a variety of Turkish magazines, including Gezi National Geographic Traveler. She has also served as an arts editor at a local publication. A native of Istanbul and a licensed guide, she has a broad range of knowledge, and is extremely interested in art and aesthetics, as well as translating the details of the Istanbul street experience for visitors. Ebru is currently attending an MA program in the history of religions at the School of Theology and working on her thesis on temple liturgy.

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    Melike Yazicioglu Taspinar

    Melike holds degrees in Tourism and Guiding from Marmara University and Art History from Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in Istanbul. Studying (MA) Museology in Mimar Sinan Fine Arts Universiy. Her special interests are Late Antiquity period in Istanbul and Clasiccal Period of Ottoman Empire.

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    Inci Turkoglu

    Inci was born in ancient Philadelphia (Alasehir), grew up in ancient Smyrna (Izmir) and now live in ancient Constantinople (Istanbul)! As an art historian she focussed on architecture - Byzantine, Turkish, Jewish – and finally on Istanbul with her phd dissertation on ancient Chalcedon. She is currently making her master's thesis on synagogue architecture and her phd dissertation on Chalcedon into books.

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