The Hagia Sophia of Trabzon is nothing like its equivalent in Istanbul.
Smaller and without any majestic pieces of art, it stands discreetly with the sea in the distance and no presence on the horizon.
For many years, I assumed there was one Hagia Sophia in Turkey, which is the architectural masterpiece standing across from the Blue mosque in Istanbul.
However, there are four of them, two in Istanbul, one in Iznik and this one in Trabzon. On first sight, it does nothing to impress but do not dismiss it straight away because once inside, it is eye-catching.
The Hagia Sophia of Trabzon
Built in the thirteenth century, the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) of Trabzon is an example of byzantine architecture with the typical dome structure in the middle.
Small birds fly across the ceiling and rest on the ledges of the high windows. Colorful frescoes adorn the walls and if details are your passion, you will need a good guide or travel book to explain their meaning.
I walked around the outside of the building and looked carefully at the stone. I was surprised to see old pictures of boats carved into the walls.
I was curious why they were there and who made them. The guide said they date back roughly five hundred years, made by sailors who wanted to be blessed in the hope they survived long journeys.
In those days, there was an old saying in this area.
If someone looked sad or depressed, the typical response was
“What is wrong? You look like your boat has sunk in the Black Sea”
The sailors of that era faced many ordeals and if they did not drown, they were fortunate, hence the drawings.
Like its counterpart in Istanbul, the history of the Hagia Sophia in Trabzon is much the same. It began life as a church and according to the Ottoman traveler, Evliya Celebi “it was built at a time of non-believers” so it was converted to a mosque in 1511.
When the Russians invaded the area, it was a hospital and storage depot, and then from 1958 to 1962, it was restored and opened as a museum.
The Hagia Sophia of Trabzon might be smaller than the one in Istanbul but it can hold its own and is a “must visit,” if you are in the region.
Readers Question : Did you know there was more than one Hagia Sophia in Turkey?