Hagia Sophia, also known as the Church of the Holy Wisdom or the Church of the Divine Wisdom, is an ancient Byzantine church in Istanbul and one of the world’s great greatest architectural works, as well as accepted as the 8th wonder of the world.
Situated along the Sultanahmet Square, which is one of the top tourist zones of the city, as well as within 2 minutes walking distance from the famous Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia is an architectural masterpiece and an essential destination for those who appreciate history, art, and culture.
Fast Facts about Hagia Sophia
- Hagia Sophia was built in the year 537 AD during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.
- The building was originally constructed as a Christian church and served as the primary cathedral of Constantinople until the city was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
- Following the Ottoman conquest, the building was converted into a mosque and served as a significant religious site for Muslims for centuries.
- In 1935, under the leadership of the Turkish president Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Hagia Sophia was turned into a museum and opened to the public.
- In 2020, Hagia Sophia converted back into a mosque.
- The building’s architectural style is a blend of Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman influences, making it a unique and significant monument in the history of architecture.
- Hagia Sophia is renowned for its massive dome, which stands at a height of 55.6 meters and has a diameter of 31 meters.
- The interior of the building is adorned with intricate mosaics, frescoes, and calligraphy, which reflect the various religious and cultural influences that have shaped the building over the centuries.
- Hagia Sophia has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985.
- The building has survived several earthquakes, fires, and other disasters throughout its long history, and continues to stand as a symbol of the rich cultural heritage of Istanbul and Turkey.
History of Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia has a long and storied history that reflects the changing cultural and religious landscape of Istanbul, formerly Constantinople. It was a church, mosque, a museum, and then a mosque again over the years.
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The building that currently stands as Hagia Sophia is actually the third iteration of the structure. The first two buildings were destroyed by fire and other natural disasters.
The current Hagia Sophia was built between 532 and 537 CE during the reign of Emperor Justinian I. The construction was overseen by the mathematician Anthemius of Tralles and the architect Isidore of Miletus. The building was originally constructed as a Greek Orthodox Christian church and was known as the Church of Holy Wisdom.
Famous Hagia Sophia in the evening sun rays, Istanbul, TurkeyFor nearly a thousand years, the Hagia Sophia served as the primary church of the Byzantine Empire, and its stunning mosaics and intricate architecture earned it a reputation as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. However, in 1453, the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and converted the Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
The Ottomans added several features to the building to make it better suited for Islamic worship, including minarets, a mihrab (a niche in the wall indicating the direction of Mecca), and a mimbar (a raised platform used for sermons). The Ottomans also covered up many of the original Christian mosaics with plaster and painted over them.
In 1935, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the Turkish Republic, the Hagia Sophia was turned into a museum by the government of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The plaster was removed from many of the mosaics, revealing their original beauty and providing a glimpse into the building’s Christian past.
In July 2020, the Turkish government converted the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.
Hagia Sophia is a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture and engineering, designed by Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus. The original construction started in 532 AD and took only five years to complete, which was a remarkable achievement given the scale and complexity of the project. The building was then rebuilt and renovated several times throughout its history.
The most impressive architectural feature of Hagia Sophia is its massive dome, which is 55.6 meters high and has a diameter of 31 meters. It is considered one of the greatest domes in the world, and its engineering was a major achievement in the history of architecture. The dome is supported by four piers and two half-domes, which distribute the weight of the structure evenly. The arches, vaults, and domes create a sense of lightness and space, which is characteristic of Byzantine architecture.
The interior s decorated with magnificent mosaics, frescoes, and marble columns. The walls and ceilings are covered with intricate designs and patterns, which create a sense of depth and movement. The mosaics depict religious figures, events, and scenes from the Bible, and are considered some of the finest examples of Byzantine art. The marble columns were brought from all over the Byzantine Empire, and their different colors and patterns add to the richness and diversity of the interior.
Throughout its history, Hagia Sophia has served as a model and inspiration for many architects and builders around the world. Its beauty, scale, and complexity continue to awe and inspire visitors today.
What to See Exterior and Interior?
The building’s massive exterior is a testament to Byzantine engineering and architectural ingenuity. The dome, which dominates the skyline of Istanbul, is an impressive feat of engineering, measuring 32 meters in diameter and over 56 meters in height. The exterior also features beautiful cascading marble columns, intricate carvings, and detailed mosaics.
Tour Booking Advice
The interior of Hagia Sophia is equally impressive, and its vast space is adorned with stunning mosaics and frescoes. The central nave features an enormous dome that creates an awe-inspiring sense of space.
Visitors can also explore the intricate decoration of the imperial door, the breathtaking mosaics of Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora, and the stunning calligraphy that dates back to the Ottoman era. The upper galleries offer an excellent vantage point to appreciate the scale and beauty of the dome and allow visitors to view the interior from above.
In addition to these highlights, visitors can also marvel at the building’s intricate marble floors, unique Byzantine architecture, and the remains of ancient Christian artwork.
Visiting Hagia Sophia Tips
- There is no entrance fee for Hagia Sophia. For those who would like guided tours, you can get one around € 20-30. Just make sure the guides be authorized and have their badges.
- Both Muslims and non-Muslims can visit Hagia Sophia. It is open every day and every time.
- We recommend you visit before noon (maybe early in the morning before the crowds begin to form) to catch the best light, as well as not to stay in the daily prayers.
- You should respect to daily prayers, not make noise, and remove your shoes before stepping the carpets. Also women should wear a head covering, and you can find head scarves at the entrance for free.
- You can take photos, however you should respect the people praying.
- You should be aware with pickpockets and keep your wallet safe. This is common in all world’s top tourist destinations. Also stay away from any people pretending to be a guide.
- To avoid long queues and crowds, it’s best to plan your visit to Hagia Sophia ahead of time.
- Hagia Sophia is a place of worship, so it’s important to dress appropriately. Shorts, sleeveless shirts, and skirts above the knee are not allowed. Make sure to dress modestly and wear comfortable shoes as there’s a lot of walking involved.
- If you’re interested in learning more about the history and architecture of Hagia Sophia, consider taking a guided tour. There are plenty of tour operators that offer guided tours in multiple languages.
- There are plenty of other things to see and do in the surrounding area, such as the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and the Grand Bazaar. Make sure to plan some extra time to explore these other sights.
Hours and Fees
Hagia Sophia is open every day and every hour. Entrance to Hagia Sophia is FREE of charge. Guided tours are available for around € 20-30.
Top-Rated Hagia Sophia Guided Tours
You can feel free to book one of these top selling guided tours for Hagia Sophia. They all have excellent traveler ratings. If you change your mind, you can also make free cancellation with a FULL REFUND up to 24 hours in advance.
Getting to Hagia Sophia Tips
Hagia Sophia is located in Sultanahmet neighborhood, which belongs to Fatih district. See on google map.
For those coming from Taksim, Galata or Besiktas areas, can take the Kabatas-Bagcilar T1 tram line passing through Kabatas, Karakoy, and get off at Sultanahmet stop.
For those on the Asian side of Istanbul, can take the ferry to Eminonu or take the Marmaray line from Uskudar and get off at the Sirkeci stop. And than you can take the Kabatas-Bagcilar tram line passing through Eminönü and Sirkeci stops, and get off at Sultanahmet stop.
Address: Sultan Ahmet, Ayasofya Meydani No:1, 34122 Fatih, Istanbul
Tel:+90 212 522 17 50