One of the highlights of the Pope's trip to Turkey was his visit to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. As he was walking towards the entrance, some pilgrims greeted him from the distance.
This former Christian basilica and mosque was turned into a museum in 1935 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern-day Turkey. The director of the museum explained to the Pope the history of the building as he guided him.
Pope Francis listened carefully to everything he said. First, he was told about the minarets, that were built when the basilica became a mosque. Before him, Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI had visited this historic building.
The actual Hagia Sophia is the third reconstruction of the first basilica that was built on the same spot in the fourth century.
"These are remains of the first basilica, that date back to the 300.”
Once inside, the Pope could appreciate the famous mosaics that decorate the ceilings.
"The dome of the Hagia Sophia is one of the things that gets the most attention.”
"It's looks as if it is hanging from the sky.”
The great mosaics that depict Our Lady are one of the most important witnesses of its Christian past. Pope Francis paid close attention to them.
After the visit, the Pope signed the Book of Honor. He wrote that "the beauty and harmony of this holy place” may help "the soul rise to the Almighty, source and origin of all beauty.”
Before leaving, the Pope was given two books and the Pope gave a gift in return.
As he exited the Hagia Sophia, the Muslim call to prayer could be heard in the nearby mosques.