For me, nothing captures the way Istanbul spans two cultures and continents better than Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque. They’re two famous attractions and are only a 15 minute walk from each other. On our last day in Istanbul, we made it to both! I was worried after all the hype these places wouldn’t meet our expectations, but it turned out I shouldn’t have worried. We started with the Hagia Sophia, which began as a church way back in the 500s, got converted to a mosque in the 1400s and is now a museum. But this is more than just sight seeing. It’s impossible to describe how powerful the impact of standing under the dome was for me.

The guidebook we bought says, “Justinian’s basilica was both the culminating architectural achievement of Late Antiquity and the first masterpiece of Byzantine architecture.” It swayed both architecture and religion in the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Muslim worlds alike. Yet, until you’re standing in places where people have walked and prayed for nearly two thousand years, you can’t imagine it. I kept thinking of all the people who prayed to God in that spot before us and all who will come after. I could tell the others also felt a sense of awe; it’s impossible NOT to feel it there.

Attractions: The Blue Mosque

We were quiet on our walk to the Blue Mosque. Unlike the Hagia Sophia, it’s still a place of worship, so we had to take off our shoes and cover our hair before we entered. I’m so glad we were allowed in! It was my first time in a mosque, and I know they aren’t all so grand, just like every church isn’t like Notre Dame in Paris. But this was so awe-inspiring.

The Blue Mosque was designed by an Islamic architect over a thousand years after Hagia Sophia and it’s “considered to be the last great mosque of the classical period.” We couldn’t get over the beauty of the ceramic tiles—there are more than 20,000 of them in vivid colors, though not all blue. They’re attractions all by themselves! The fact that this mosque is so old and people still worship there five times a day made it even more impressive. Know more inspiring places to visit? The Taj Mahal, maybe? I’d love to know!

Wall Decor with Tiles?

Because we were all in love with the Turkish tiles, we decided we couldn’t leave without taking one home as a souvenir. Now Lisa has two tiles, from Madrid and Istanbul, and the rest of us have one. I can’t speak for the others, but I’m already planning where to put mine. I know my tile will be in two places—the kitchen in the winter and the patio in the summer. Wall decor! That way I’ll see it all the time, no matter what. One of Instanbul’s attractions will be in my own backyard!

Next: Carla Loves Attractions Like the Elephanta Caves