The grand Hagia Sophia is one of the most culturally significant monuments in the city of Istanbul. Recognized as a world heritage site by UNESCO, the Hagia Sophia has lived through centuries, empires and disasters to tell the tale of time. This landmark was initially constructed as a church, to serve as a pivotal point of worship for the Christian world under the east Roman Empire. While it was subsequently converted to a mosque, a museum and now back to a mosque again, the Hagia Sophia Church has a rich backstory.
The Hagia Sophia Church is an important part of the mighty Byzantine’s history. It’s beauty led people to believe that the construction of Hagia Sophia Church required divine intervention. Here’s a closer look into its history and construction.
The original church at the current site of the Hagia Sophia was built beside the Great Palace of Constantinople. The Hagia Eirene Church served as the main cathedral while the Great Church was still under construction. A majority of the current structure of Hagia Sophia was built under emperor Justinian I after the church was destroyed in 532 C.E.
During the Latin rule in Constantinople in the 13th Century, the Hagia Sophia Church became a Roman Catholic Cathedral. After falling into disuse and suffering damages from earthquakes, the church was closed and repairs were ordered in 1354.
The Hagia Sophia Church was involved in an unaccepted union between the western Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. The masses then avoided the church and believed that it was a haunt of demons. It was widely reported that the local residents saw the Holy Spirit leaving the Hagia Sophia Church days before Constantinople fell to the Ottoman siege in 1453.
Such was the satisfaction of Justinian I after the construction of the Great Church, it is said that he declared that he had outdone Solomon. Under architects Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, the vast interior was created with a complex structure. The nave is enclosed by a central dome, which is at a height of 55.6 m from the floor level and stands on an arcade of 40 arched windows. The repairs to its structure left the dome somewhat elliptical in shape.
Since its construction, the Hagia Sophia Church has suffered damages on multiple occasions due to earthquakes and negligence. One of the major renovation projects was led by emperor Basil II in the 10th Century, who restored the fallen dome of the church and added four large murals of cherubs, a new depiction of Christ on the vault, a burial cloth of Christ, and on the apse, a new depiction of the Virgin Mary cradling Jesus, amid the apostles, Peter and Paul.
The Hagia Sophia Church was transformed into a mosque in 1453 under the Ottoman’s and then into a museum in 1935 under the Republic of Turkey. The Hagia Sophia remained a museum until 2020 as one of the most famous and iconic travel destinations in the world. Today, it has been re-designated a mosque in Istanbul.
The Hagia Sophia Mosque was originally built to function as the primary Christian Orthodox church in Constantinople in 537 AD. It is a treasure trove of Byzantine art and architecture.
The Hagia Sophia is open daily throughout the year. It is closed to non-worshippers only during prayer times.
The present-day Hagia Sophia was originally built as a Christian cathedral in the 6th century during the Byzantine Empire under the orders of Emperor Justinian I. It was completed in 537 AD. It was constructed to serve as the main church of Istanbul and to symbolize the grandeur and power of the Byzantine Empire.
Yes, you can purchase Hagia Sophia skip-the-line tickets and guided tours online. It is best to purchase these tickets online because it is more convenient and you can pre-book tickets in advance to avoid standing in long lines on the day of your visit.
Since the Hagia Sophia Mosque is an active place of worship, we recommend you avoid clothes that show your shoulders or knees. You have to wear a headscarf to enter the mosque. You can find scarves at the entrance.
You can either get on the M2 metro or the T1 tram and reach Sultanahmet Square, a short walk away from the Hagia Sophia. The Marmaray (Atakoy to Pendik) or Marmaray (Halkali to Gebze) trains also stop at Sultanahmet Square. Bus numbers 28, 32, BN1, and EM1 also pass by Sultanahmet Square. You can hop on any of these buses to reach the Hagia Sophia.
Inside the Hagia Sophia, you can witness a fascinating blend of Christian and Islamic art. The vast interiors are dominated by a massive Central Dome, which is supported by four large arches and a ring of smaller domes. Some of the frescoes and mosaics on the walls date back to the Byzantine era when Hagia Sophia was a Church. The walls also contain Islamic inscriptions and words from Allah and Prophet Mohammad.
If you are around Sultanahmet Square or are visiting the Blue Mosque or the Istanbul Grand Bazaar, you can walk to the Hagia Sophia.