Walking back towards the busy space in front of the Blue Mosque, we now turn towards the second landmark, the famous Aya Sofia. This church in the heart of old Byzantium was completed in the year 537, and built by order of Roman Emperor Justinianus. Later renamed a mosque, it received 4 minarets, and finally became a museum in 1934. When you enter the structure it is not hard to imagine why the filmmakers decided to let it play a major part in From Russia With Love. The Aya Sofia is so ingeniously designed and built that it is simply breathtaking to walk inside and enjoy the imposing interior. It is open for public, every day (except Mondays) from 9:30h until 17:00h. The entrance fee is about US$ 3.00 per adult.
Principle filming for From Russia With Love started here on Monday 22 April 1963. Every morning the crew left the Hilton Hotel in convoy consisting of 28 vehicles, half of which were filled with lighting equipment, indispensable to film inside the dark mosque. The Turkish Ministry for Tourism had allowed EON to film inside the Aya Sophia, as long as normal tourists wouldn’t be bothered. This did in fact cause some trouble, when later that afternoon a big group walked in, causing a twenty minute delay.
When Tania enters the building, she’s coming in from the south. This is not the main tourist entrance, which is more west. From this tourist entrance you will walk onto the inner centre of the church. On your left you will see a huge urn beside a round red column. Bond stood here pointing with his sunglasses into the direction he wanted Tania to go. When you walk towards that urn, the most northern side of the inner space is the area where it all happened.
The huge stone columns are the ones where Bond spotted the Bulgarian. In between the columns are wooden booths, the most rectangular being the one where Tania left the ground plan for Bond to pick up. This is the booth where Grant killed the Bulgarian who took the ground plan before Bond got there. The Aya Sofia obviously hasn’t changed at all since filming took place there and all the important areas are still very recognizable. Whenever you walk around there, you always expect the Bulgarian to show up behind one of the columns...
Before Bond sets out for a little boat trip across the Bosporus with Tania, he was scheduled to have another encounter with the ‘enemy’. Driving towards the ferry departure, Bond is once again being tailed by the Bulgarian, who on his turn is being followed by Kerim Bey. When Bond hits the brakes, the three cars collide causing the Bulgarian to be stuck in between. While 007 is being picked up by the Rolls, Kerim walks up to the trapped Bulgarian saying: “Well my friend, that’s life”. This notorious but brilliant scene unfortunately had to be deleted when during a pre-screening Terence Young’s 12 year old son discovered that the Bulgarian had been previously killed by Grant in the Aya Sophia... Apparently it was one of Pedro Armendariz’ (Kerim Bey) best scenes.
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This and much more can be found in the chapter 'Moonlight over the Bosporus' in ON THE TRACKS OF 007