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Hagia Sophia

The Masterpiece of All Times

Best Known for
Dome

Built
532 A.D.

Civilization
Byzantine

Suggested Duration
2 Hours

From the time it was built, Hagia Sophia, the Church of Divine Wisdom, has astonished and entranced all who beheld it, with its magnificent dome symbolizing unattainable infinity. Considered as one of the eight wonders of the world, very few structures of that age made it to the present day. Used as a church for 916 years and as a mosque for 481, Hagia Sophia served as a place of worship for nearly one and a half millennia.

When it was initially built as a Christian basilica almost 1,500 years ago, it was known as the Megale Ekklesia (a colossal/large church) or the Great Church (being also the largest church of its time for nearly 1000 years). Finally, it was named “Hagia Sophia” which is regarded as one of the names of God according to Christianity.

After the Turkish conquest, it was converted into a mosque but continued to be known by the Turkish rendering of its Greek name, Ayasofya. In 1934, at the wish of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic, the Council of Ministers turned the building into a museum.

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From the time it was built, Hagia Sophia, the Church of Divine Wisdom, has astonished and entranced all who beheld it, with its magnificent dome symbolizing unattainable infinity. Considered as one of the eight wonders of the world, very few structures of that age made it to the present day. Used as a church for 916 years and as a mosque for 481, Hagia Sophia served as a place of worship for nearly one and a half millennia.

When it was initially built as a Christian basilica almost 1,500 years ago, it was known as the Megale Ekklesia (a colossal/large church) or the Great Church (being also the largest church of its time for nearly 1000 years). Finally, it was named “Hagia Sophia” which is regarded as one of the names of God according to Christianity.

After the Turkish conquest, it was converted into a mosque but continued to be known by the Turkish rendering of its Greek name, Ayasofya. In 1934, at the wish of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic, the Council of Ministers turned the building into a museum.

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Inquire for a FREE quotation now and we will get back to you with a sample itinerary within 24 hours of workdays.

The total cost to build the church was around 4660 ounces (approx. 145,000 kilograms of gold equals to a worth of US$3 billion).

Istanbul Tours

The History

The Minarets

Key Features

Tips & Etiquette

Hagia Sophia was constructed by the Byzantine emperor Justinian between 532 and 537. It was the third church of this name on the same site.

The first was a basilica erected on the site of a former Roman temple, and according to the historian, Socrates was dedicated on 15 February 360. It was destroyed by fire in the year 404 in an uprising against Emperor Arcadius.

The second church was built by Emperor Theodosius II and dedicated on 10 October 415, only to be burnt down in the Nika Revolt on 13 January 532, during the fifth year of the reign of Justinian I (527-565).

Crushing the revolt, Justinian commanded that a new church be built on a far grander scale than the previous two. The chronicler Procopius relates that two architects, the Mathematician Anthemius of Tralles and Geometry specialist Isidorus of Miletus, were appointed for the task. One hundred master craftsmen, one thousand journeymen, and ten thousand laborers were employed.

After 5 years of ruling, Emperor Justinian I became unpopular and people were aggrieved at the high taxes. While Justinian was able to suppress the Nika Riots, it was time to build the new Hagia Sophia which was considered as a victory for both Justinian himself and Christianity.

Justinian wanted the church to be completed in the shortest possible time and sent orders out to all the provinces of his realm, commanding that columns and marbles from ancient cities be sent to Istanbul. Shiploads arrived from Syria, Egypt, and Greece, as well as from Asia Minor. Construction commenced on 23 February 532 and apart from the decoration was completed in an astonishingly short time of 5 years, ten months, and 24 days.

The church was dedicated on 27 December 537 at a magnificent opening ceremony. Justinian drove up to the church in his victory chariot and was welcomed in the atrium by Patriarch Menas. The two men entered the church hand in hand. Justinian was so impressed by its splendor, that he exclaimed, ‘Thanks be to God for blessing me with the good fortune of constructing such a place of worship.’

At the inauguration, one thousand bulls, six thousand sheep, six hundred stags, one thousand pigs, ten thousand chickens, and ten thousand roosters were sacrificed, and alms were distributed to the poor.

Four minarets were added to the outside of the building at various times after its conversion into a mosque. The vast buttresses against the exterior walls were built in the 16th century by the Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan to support the building, and have enabled it to survive to the present day.

Additions within the church are the mihrab or prayer niche inside the apse, the bronze lamps to either side of the niche which were brought here from Buda, and the pulpit and imperial and muezzin galleries of carved marble. The library beyond the south aisle was built by Mahmud I in 1739.

All the additions were designed with the character of the existing building in mind, the use of marble for the Ottoman additions reflecting the extensive use of this material in the Byzantine building.

The inscriptions in the dome and the large calligraphic panels bearing the names of God, Muhammed, and the four caliphs, are the work of the celebrated 19th-century calligrapher, Kazasker Mustafa Izzet Efendi.

  • Hagia Sophia is the most outstanding example of a domed basilica, the first sample of its history for a great combination of classical basilica plan with a central dome. (exp. Pantheon in Rome). One can quickly feel the style of architecture is a great harmony of the Early Byzantine architecture, Roman architectural traditions, and Eastern arts.
  • The central space has an area of seven thousand square meters and is flanked by two aisles, each divided from the nave by four verd antique columns. These eight columns were brought from Ephesus, while the eight porphyry columns beneath the semidomes were brought from Egypt.
  • Referring to the central space of 7500 square meters, you can easily fit in over 3000 people inside at such a space. However, we can assume 750-800 proper seating, considering the aisles and other unused spaces.
  • Altogether, the building contains 107 columns, whose capitals are among the most excellent examples of Byzantine stone carving. These capitals bear the monograms of Emperor Justinian and his wife, Theodora.
  • The dome rises to 56.6 meters at its apex and has a diameter of 32.37 meters, supported by four pendentives and two semidomes.
  • The original dome collapsed in an earthquake just 22 years after the church was completed and was rebuilt in 562 by Isidorus the Younger, nephew of Isidorus of Miletus. Isidorus the Younger raised the height of the dome by 2.65 meters to lessen its outward thrust.
  • This engineering masterpiece survived earthquakes for 15 centuries, and simulations and other studies show that it can survive up to 7.5 magnitudes. The 40 windows decorating the dome absorbs the shocks, distributing it on the pillars. The special mortar used for construction carries a high quality of calcium–silicon mixture, which helps the cracks repair itself over time.
  • During the Latin occupation of Istanbul by the Fourth Crusaders between 1203 and 1261, the church was used for Roman Catholic rites. In addition to all the great damage done, numerous church items were taken to Europe.
  • Emperor Alexius IV was forced to hand over many of the sacred objects belonging to the church in repayment for debts to the Latins, and these are now in Venice. The mosaics of Haghia Sophia are exquisite works of art. In the semidome of the apse is a large mosaic depicting the Mother of God with the Infant Christ, which makes abundant use of gold and silver.
  • The dress of Mary is worked in a dark blue glass mosaic, and she sits on a magnificent bejeweled throne reminiscent of an imperial throne. The faces of the mother and infant are entrancingly beautiful.
  • Another mosaic not to be missed is above the Imperial Gate showing Leo VI (886-912) bowing before Christ and asking his sins to be forgiven. A mosaic on the side door of the inner narthex depicts two emperors with Mary and the Infant Christ. One of the emperors is Constantine I, shown presenting Mary and Christ with a model of Constantinople, which was named after him, and the other is Justinian I, who is presenting a model of the church that he founded.
  • In the south gallery is the Deisis mosaic and two others depicting Constantine IX Monomachos and Empress Zoe (11th century) and John Comnenus II with his wife Eirene and son Alexius (12th century), respectively. In the north gallery is the mosaic depicting Emperor Alexander (10th century).
  • If possible or if you are visiting on your own, purchase your tickets in advance. Otherwise, you may have to wait up to 2 hours in the queue during peak and usual tourist seasons.
  • You need to spare at least 90 minutes or simply 2 hours to visit Hagia Sophia. Anything less than an hour would be too rush as there is a lot to see.
  • Since there are not a lot of information or notices throughout the visit, book your guide in advance. Stay away from the guides waiting at the entrance of sites and museums in general as they are most probably unlicensed officially and looking for a tourist to scam one way or another.
  • Blue Mosque is only two minutes walking distance. So, don’t forget to plan a full day around the old city wisely.
  • Best time to visit: the interior will glow much better if you plan to visit in the morning hours.
  • Try not to hit public holidays or weekends as it will make it harder to visit comfortably.
  • Last, but not least, don’t forget to take a selfie with Gli (meaning: the union of love) that has been living inside for more than 14 years and become the favorite of all tourists.

Visiting Hagia Sophia

The museum first started to welcome its guests from 1st Feb. 1935. Since then, it has been one of the most iconic structures not only within the country but the world. Hagia Sophia hosted more than 30 million people since 2007, meaning more than 3 million visitors annually.

Became a Mosque Again

Hagia Sophia started to serve as a mosque starting from 24 July 2020.

Open Every Day (except prayer times)
Admission: Free

What is Nearby

Since Hagia Sophia is sitting on the first hill of Istanbul, the old city is all walking distance to the other highlights such as the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, the Hippodrome, Basilica Cistern, Grand Bazaar and more.

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