Obama to visit Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque

7th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

Obama, who has promised to improve US ties with the Muslim world, began a two day visit to Turkey Monday, with talks with Turkish leaders in Ankara.

Istanbul -- US President Barack Obama's visit to Istanbul will take him Tuesday to two monuments heavy with symbolism: the Hagia Sophia Church and Blue Mosque, grandiose edifices of Christianity and Islam at the meeting point of Europe and Asia.

Erected on opposite sides of Sultanahmet Square in the ancient heart of Istanbul, they reflect the diverse heritage of a city at the crossroads of East and West, past capital of the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.

Obama, who has promised to improve US ties with the Muslim world, began a two day visit to Turkey Monday, with talks with Turkish leaders in Ankara.

He was to travel on to Istanbul later Monday and attend a reception at an international forum, co-chaired by Turkey and Spain, aimed at fostering dialogue between Islamic countries and the West.

Built in the 6th century, Hagia Sophia, which means Holy Wisdom in Greek, was converted to a mosque in 1453 when the Ottomans conquered Istanbul, then called Constantinople.

After the Ottoman Empire crumbled and modern, secular Turkey was founded on its ruins, the mosque was transformed into a museum in 1935.

The edifice, a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture, was built by the Emperor Justinian, who is said to have envied the grandeur of the Temple of King Solomon in Jerusalem.

As Justinian entered the church after construction was completed, he is said to have cried: "Oh, Solomon, I have outdone you!"

The church, the centre of imperial rituals in Constantinople, features an immense dome supported by huge pillars, its walls sheathed with marble and decorated with mosaics.

After the city fell to the armies of Sultan Mehmet II The Conqueror, four minarets were added to the structure and the interior was decorated with Islamic art.

Just across the church is the second stop on Obama's programme, the Sultanahmet Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque for its distinctive tilework.

Built in the early 17th century by Sultan Ahmet I to compete with the grandeur of Hagia Sophia, the mosque is one of Istanbul's largest, its six minarets dominating the skyline of the Golden Horn's southern shore.

Riot police will be on high alert when Obama tours the area, home to many of Istanbul's most popular tourist attractions -- the Topkapi Palace, the underground Cistern Basilica and the Archaeological Museum.

AFP/Expatica

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