Home » FEATURES » Feature: Haghia Sophia’s Utopia — Tourist Style in Istanbul

Feature: Haghia Sophia’s Utopia — Tourist Style in Istanbul


Inside the iconic Haghia Sophia in Istanbul Turkey

Inside the iconic Haghia Sophia in Istanbul Turkey



Global fashion merges at the Jewel of Istanbul. 


By: Isabelle Bourgeault-Tassé

Ottawa, Canada


Haghia Sophia is a magnificent lady; her great stained windows and minarets peering down like a benevolent, loving mother, down on Sultanahmet, Old Istanbul.

Haghia Sophia, Saint Sophia, Santa Sophia, Ayasofya: where blood was shed in the name of Christ, Allah, and Empire.


In many ways, the history of Haghia Sophia – the Jewel of Istanbul – was written in blood, but also with profound love and brotherhood.


Built on the grounds of ancient Byzantium churches, a Christian Haghia Sophia was built with materials pillaged from Egypt, Syria, Greece, and from other distant corners of the Roman Empire.  When the Ottomans swept in in 1453, Haghia Sophia was rebaptized a mosque.  Its mosaics, depicting Christ and the Virgin Mary, were whitewashed and replaced with Islamic calligraphy.  In 1953, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – the father of modern Turkey – converted Haghia Sophia into a museum; its Christian mosaics restored, they now share the Jewel of Istanbul with massive Islamic calligraphy plates inscribed with the pillars of Islam.


And now, tourists of the world gather to walk in the footsteps of history, a site of pilgrimage for Christians and Muslims.



Gorgeous shoes

Gorgeous shoes


European lovelies flit by, flimsy sundresses floating in the breeze, kissing their lovers with abandon. Around them, efficient North Americans follow strict paths outlined on maps, comfortable in their ankle socks and white running shoes (for the record, I made sure mine were black), day-trip necessities tucked away in camel-coloured fanny-packs.


Roma, playing sad songs on flutes and accordions, entertain the masses in their flowing folk skirts and embroidered black headscarves. Majestically turbaned Sikhs, their wives in breezy salwar kameezes, look on at faux sultan turbans crafted for hordes of tourists.


Arabs in elaborately styled hijabs, eyes rimmed with kohl and impeccably groomed eyebrows, clutching Chanel bags while Turkish tourists parade their sons around dressed as little sultans.



Beautiful colours of hijabs worn by the local women of Turkey.

Beautiful colours of hijabs worn by the local women of Turkey.



Enthusiastic Koreans in their light-weight tan-coloured vests, weighed down with tubes of sunblock, tourist books and maps, and bottles of water as Saudi women in black abayas hold hands with jean-clad daughters tottering on cobblestone paths in sky-high wedge heels.


And among it all, there’s even a Turkish waiter proudly sporting a ‘Canadian Tuxedo’ (read: denim on denim, or chambray as we are now loftily calling it).


In many ways, Haghia Sophia’s tourists reflect a world where arguments about women’s flesh – revealed or hidden – are of little concern.  I have the audacity to imagine that we have emerged from Haghia Sophia’s violent history to see that we – and our abayas, turbans, and jeans – are cut from the same cloth.  That beyond all these arguments, we can just be in each other’s company in this amazing place.


I cannot pretend to read the private thoughts of my fellow tourists, temporary citizens of Haghia Sophia’s Style Utopia.  Perhaps sundresses inflicted judgment on abayas; perhaps abayas felt that hijabs weren’t sufficient; perhaps all were mystified by the Disneyfied sultan tourist turbans.


Amazing collection of fabrics at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey

Amazing collection of fabrics at the Grand Bazaar



But I, an unabashed idealist, choose to believe that we – citizens of Haghia Sophia’s Utopia – have greater concerns on our minds: gazing in silent awe on mosaics of the Virgin Mary and at Allah’s name scrawled on giant calligraphy plates; sourcing the perfect baklava; avoiding carpet salesmen; and finding out where that gorgeous fashionista tourist found her perfect knock-off Prada bag.


Yes, that’s my Utopia.


Photography by Fotolia.com 

Here are more global fashion stories

Add Comment Register

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>