The city of Istanbul, Turkey, is a kind of connecting bridge between the west and the east, as it has one foot in Europe and the other in Asia. It is vibrant, cosmopolitan and at every corner it tells a story. One of its greatest treasures, and the city’s greatest symbol, is the ancient Byzantine basilica Hagia Sophia built in the 5th century, during the Byzantine Empire, to be the cathedral of Constantinople. It is impressive to think that that gigantic temple, considered the largest in the Byzantine Empire, was built at a time so distant from ours and with such architectural perfection. A tremendous piece of engineering.

But history has its curves there and in 1453, when the Ottoman Turks invaded the Byzantine Empire, Hagia Sophia was transformed into a mosque. Better that way. It wasn’t brought down, like so many other gems of that time. Then, its big pink dome came to live with four minarets. Well … the story doesn’t stop there. In 1934, the church/mosque disputed by Christians and Muslims was transformed into a museum. It began to exhibit symbols of the two religions side by side. There are Christian mosaics coexisting with medallions with inscriptions from the Koran and it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A symbol of the Turkish secular state.

This week, Turkey’s President Erdogan announced that the Hagia Sophia museum will once again function as a mosque and that it will remain open for both Turks and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims. There were protests from several countries as Hagia Sophia adds values that transcend religions and unite humanity. The first prayer at the mosque will be held on July 24.

If you can no longer visit the interior of Hagia Sophia, here is a tip to enjoy a wonderful sunset, with the silhouette of the mosque-basilica almost within reach, from the terrace of the Four Seasons Sultanahmet. In fact, this hotel occupies a historic building that served as a prison for intellectuals and politicians, in a very central point of Istanbul.

If you haven’t been to Turkey yet, this is a country that deserves to be visited. Combining the vibrant mood of Istanbul with a bucolic balloon ride in Cappadocia is a nice little fold.

XoXo and see you next week.