The glorious and stunning Hagia Sophia of Istanbul – Turkey! I have been twice, and I would go again. The former church, Ottoman Mosque, the official museum and now mosque again has a saintly ambience combined with Islamic and Byzantine architecture. Sitting in Istanbul old city part known as Sultanahmet, Hagia Sophia joins other nearby landmarks belonging to Turkey’s UNESCO World Heritage list.
The large dome, Christian frescoes and Islamic – Ottoman calligraphy hanging from upper galleries portray the history of 3 cities; Istanbul, Constantinople, and Byzantium. I cannot criticize the Hagia Sophia in any manner, and the long queues to get in, do not deter me from singing its praises. How can a man-made construction evoke so much respect?
Visiting the Hagia Sophia of Istanbul – Turkey
Hagia Sophia’s history is impressive, but visitors should head to the upper gallery and stand there in silence for 5 minutes. As you do this, look around and take in the architecture. Imagine who crafted those walls, ceilings, and symbolic balustrades with such precision and excellence.
Despite being one of Turkey’s top visited attractions, Hagia Sophia has a calm and quiet atmosphere. I can assume everyone who steps inside is likewise in awe. One good description I read about the Hagia Sophia was penned by author and poet Richard Tillinghast. In his book, an Armchair Traveller’s History of Istanbul, he wrote…
“Once inside, I take off my hat. I am standing in a building that is a millennium and a half old. I want nothing to obstruct my vision. As I look up into the dome, which the ancients saw as being suspended from heaven on a golden train.”
When Was the Hagia Sophia of Istanbul Built?
Although the Hagia Sophia is ancient, this building we see today is not the original. Emperor Constantine, the Great of the Byzantine Empire, built the first Hagia Sophia in 360AD. Unfortunately, a fire in 404AD destroyed the roof and then another fire; ten years later destroyed the rest of it. So, Roman Emperor Justinian completely rebuilt the Hagia Sophia.
Bad luck would knock once again, though. One hundred seventeen years later, Hagia Sophia was destroyed in Istanbul’s Nicaea Riots. After being rebuilt, the landmark suffered minor damage over hundreds of years. Its shining glory was evident to everyone, though. So during the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, Ottoman Turks converted the Hagia Sophia into a mosque instead of destroying it. In 1935, the famed landmark became an official museum of the Turkish Republic. Then in 2020, the Turkish government reverted it into a mosque.
Tombs in the Hagia Sophia
The Ottoman-empire reign lasted for hundreds of years; hence many sultans are buried within Istanbul in tombs. One such place to hold them is the Hagia Sophia. Ottoman Selim, the second’s tomb, sits within an octagonal mausoleum site of the Hagia Sophia. The tomb of Mehmed, the 3rd who killed his brothers to stop them from overthrowing him, includes two domes and, once again, an octagonal layout. Other tombs include Murad the 3rd, his daughter and four sons. Lastly, other tombs include Ibrahim and Sultan Mustafa the 1st.
Interesting Facts about the Hagia Sophia of Istanbul
- In Turkey, it is called Ayasofya
- Hagia Sophia’s name means Church of Holy Wisdom
- The 19th-century Islamic calligraphy plaques were made from wood
- Hagia Sophia was a Christian church for 916 years
- It was once the world’s largest domed building.
- The Hagia Sophia mosque belongs to the old city part listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Tips for Visiting
Depending on when you visit, queues for the Hagia Sophia can be long. I waited 40 minutes to get in. There are two floors; the ground and upper gallery levels. An uneven, winding stone staircase reaches the latter, so make sure you have good shoes on! Now Hagia Sophia has converted back into a mosque, the entrance is free, and it opens all the time. However, please be aware this is a place of worship and try to avoid visiting during prayer time.
Christian Churches in Cappadocia: If you enjoyed reading about the Hagia Sophia, visit preserved Byzantine-style churches and monasteries in Cappadocia – Turkey. Dating from Christianity’s early days, 14th-century churches were carved out of tufa rock and display religious art depicting Biblical scenes.
Visiting Other Special Places in Istanbul
The Hagia Sophia sits of Istanbul – Turkey sits in the Sultanahmet district. This is the centre of other Byzantine and Ottoman landmarks, including the Basilica Cistern, Blue Mosque, Hippodrome, Topkapi Palace and Chora Church. In addition, other great attractions to visit include Galata Bridge, Galata Tower, Grand Bazaar, and Golden Horn and Bosphorus strait attractions. If you plan to visit other places in Istanbul, look at the Istanbul Tourist Pass to beat queues, and save money.
Note: This post was updated in August 2021 to reflect the change in status from museum to mosque. All photos are from when it was a museum.