UPDATE: (a couple more photos added)

Aya Sofia was built about 1500 years ago by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, and served as the most important church in Christendom for about 900 years before being converted into a mosque by the Ottomans in 1453. Even after all this time it is still impressive.

Suffice it to say, we are in Istanbul. I have a feeling Laura will have more to say about the Aya Sofia, so I’ll just put up some pics for now.

Yes, Mom, we're still alive.

The exterior, with Laura channeling Johnny Cash (center-left).

The original Byzantine mosaics were plastered over by the Ottomans in order to abide by Islamic rules against displaying human images in a place of worship. The mosaics remained covered for 500 years before being partially exposed and restored by American archeologists in the 20th century. Currently, you can see small portions of them, such as this "Deesis" mosaic, which depicts a scene from Judgement Day, and is inlaid with what looks like gold. That's Jesus pictured above, by the way.

A view from the upper balcony. Note the worker on the scaffolding. Istanbul is the "2010 European Capital of Culture." Not sure what that means exactly, but I assume the restoration work going on now is at least partially related to that distinction and the influx of tourists and VIP visitors it will entail.

Ahhh, it's our friend the worker again. Safety First! He's only about 150 feet above an unforgiving marble floor...

Some interested visitors and their guide.

This fellow was also clearly impressed by the size of the place. The golden archway at the bottom-right is a mihrab, which serves to orient worshippers in the direction of Mecca. The mosaic at the top is a remnant from when this place was a church.