It may be far smaller and much less famous than its namesake in Istanbul, but what Trabzon’s Hagia Sophia lacks in architectural splendour it makes up for in tranquillity and beauty. Right by the sea, it is a place of palm trees, birdsong and cool breezes, a welcome respite from Trabzon’s bazaar, busy port and humming Black Sea highway.
Its history reflects Turkey’s past. Built as a church in the 13th century, then converted to a mosque during the Ottoman empire, it had a spell as a cholera hospital before opening as a museum in 1964, and then was converted back to a mosque in 2013.
Its colourful frescoes of evangelists and soaring angels were whitewashed during Ottoman rule, and restored by British art historian David Talbot Rice in the late 1950s. Some were worried what might happen to them this time around, but while some floor mosaics are covered, and a false ceiling hides the figurative Christian dome art in the main prayer room, only a fraction of the frescoes are out of sight today.
There are still dozens of paintings to admire, and they make Trabzon’s Hagia Sophia well worth the trip. Not only is considered by many historians to be Turkey’s best-preserved late-Byzantine building, it is free to enter and there are none of the queues and crowds that throng its grand sister 650 miles away in Istanbul.
• Zübeyde Han?m Street, just off Trabzon’s seafront