This building has a colourful history.
First built as a church, then converted to a mosque, then decreed a museum by the government.
The building is in the stages of renovation (including the renovation of the christian art works,) and will be for some time.
It is a wonderful experience to enter and wander the building (DO NOT MISS GOING UPSTAIRS), The building now is a mix of Mosque and Church which is a bit strange to get used to, but the former glory is slowly coming through.
Well worth a visit and a wander.
Closed on mondays.
Construction for Hagia Sophia, the Church of Holy Wisdom, started in 532. Amazingly, it took only five years to complete. It replaced two previous versions of the church that had been destroyed. For more than a thousand years, Hagia Sophia was the largest and grandest church in the world. When Sultan Mehmet II converted it into a mosque, the loss devastated Orthodox Christians. Ironically, Hagia Sophia’s design impressed the Ottomans so much that it was copied in other mosques throughout the empire. In 1935, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, declared Hagia Sophia a museum and work started to restore its mosaics. Today, it is mix of both faiths.
The exquisite mosaics of the Hagia Sophia were protected during the Islamic years by plaster, now restored for our appreciation. Here, a selection of the most famous mosaics.
Empress Zoe mosaic - image 1 - this mosaic features Christ Pantocrator, garbed in dark blue as is traditional in Byzantine art, giving a blessing with his right hand and holding the bible in his left. To his left, the powerful Empress Zoe and to his right, the third husband of the
Empress, Constantine IX Monomachus. The purse he holds recalls a recent contribution to the church. The previous husbands of the Empress at one time had their faces in the picture with the latest husband's head replacing his predecessors. This mosaic dates from the 11th C.
The Imperial Gate mosaic - image 2 - the central door to the sanctuary could only be used by the emperor and features a striking mosaic showing Christ on a jeweled throne. To his left the archangel Gabriel, to his right the Virgin Mary. The kneeling figure with the halo is believed to be Emperor Leo VI the Wise. The mosaic is believed to demonstrate the power given to the emperors by Christ. However, at least one reference implies that Leo is simply begging forgiveness for his four marriages.
The Deesis mosaic - image 3 - is considered one of the most important in the museum, dating from 1261 and created to mark the end of the Roman Catholic rule imposed by the Fourth Crusade and a return to Orthodox faith. The Virgin Mary and John the Baptist face Christ in less than full profile, and are believed to be praying for the salvation of humanity on the Judgement Day. Art experts feel that this mosaic marks the earliest phase of the Renaissance in Byzantine art because of the less harsh facial features and softer colors. The lower part of the mosaic has deteriorated - stated to be water damage.
The Apse mosaic - Virgin and Child - image 4 - is believed to be the first mosaic created after the iconoclastic period and a copy of an image destroyed a century earlier. The mosaic is high up in a dome and attracts a crowd of photographers who line up for a chance to twist and shoot. Mary is seated on a jewelled throne without a back with her feet on a stool. The golden backdrop is typical of pre-iconoclastic art.
The entrance mosaic - image 5 - was among the first discovered by the Fossati brothers in the 19th C restorations and again features Mother Mary on a jewelled backless throne with a pedestal for her feet. It dates to 944 and features on her left the Emperor Constantine presenting a model of the city and on her right Emperor Justinian with a model of the Hagia Sofia. The symbols above her head indicate "mother of god".
We left the Blue Mosque and walked through the beautiful gardens to Hagia Sophia/Aya Sofya. Before entering through the Imperial Gate, you come upon the Byzantine Frieze of sheep from AD 415 (stop and take a peek!). And once through the doors, you are struck by the sheer enormity of the mosque. Then you realize how cold(!) and dark it is inside. During our visit, Hagia Sophia was in various states of disrepair but fortunately they were doing renovations. Unfortunately that meant there was alot of scaffolding making some views difficult.
The Haghia Sophia (“church of the holy wisdom”) is over 1400 years old. The original church was built over two earlier churches for Emperor Justinian. It was inaugurated in 537 and stood as the largest and most grand place of worship until St. Peter's was completed in the 17th century. The original architecture is Byzantine - perhaps the greatest example of it - but since it was converted to a Mosque by the Ottomans in the 15th century, it is of that architecture as well. (It was converted into a mosque after the conquest of Mehmet the Conquerer in 1453.) The minarets, tombs, and fountains are all Ottoman architecture. As I walked around, beautiful as it was, I thought how odd it was to be, all at once, a church and a mosque.
At the time of construction of the original dome (over the nave), nothing like it had been attempted. New architectural rules were made up as building went along, but the dome collapsed during an earthquake 2 years after the church was completed. It was repaired and flying buttresses - arched exterior supports - were used to support the new dome which is 184 feet - 18 stories(!) - high and 100 feet across. Today, if you look up at the dome, you will see thousands of gold tiles sparkling in the light of its 40 windows. It is a spectacular sight.
Along with the dome, there were so many highlights here. My favorites include the beautiful frescoes and mosaics - look for the mosaic of the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus with archangels Michael and Gabriel. This was where the altar once stood. What is amazing about the mosaics is that in the 16th century Suleyman the Magnificent ordered them plastered over since Islam prohibits portrayals of human figures in a place of worship. Fortunately they were rediscovered in 1936 when Ataturk made the Hagia Sophia a museum.
My other favorites included the mihrab (an ornate niche in the wall that marks the direction of Mecca), sultan's loge (provided the sultan with a screened-off balcony where he could pray), muezzin's mahfili (muezzin leads the call to prayer), the mimbar (a lofty pulpit from where the imam - head of the mosque - delivers his Friday khutba -sermon), and the calligraphic roundels. It was great fun to discover all the treasures - both small and large - here.
Before leaving stop at the marble and brass Scared Column (wish column). "It's thought that the column weeps water that can work miracles, and over the centuries believers have worn a hole as they caress the column to come in contact with the miraculous moisture. It's also believed that if you place your thumb in the hole and turn your hand 360 degrees, any wish you make while doing so will come true."
Hagia Sophia was definitely one of the highlights of Istanbul for me!
Hagia Sophia is opposite the Blue Mosque and within walking distance of Topkapi Palace and Basilica Cistern.
Allow at least a couple of hours to visit. Be respectful and quiet.
Hours: 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Last entrance is at 4:30.
Upper Gallery closes at 4:45 p.m.
Closed on Mondays.
Entrance fee is 20 TL. Sign posted says only Turkish currency is accepted.
I highly recommend having a good guide book or hiring a guide. Guides are available at the entrance.
**Tip: when you're in the upper gallery be sure to look at the windows. You will get some very interesting (and photogenic views!).
The huge interior of the Ayasofia Museum measures 70 x 75 yards and is dominated by the great dome measuring over 100 feet across and rising 160 feet. It is supported by massive columns ( image 3 ) up to 20 yards tall and 1.5 across. Materials were imported from all over the Roman Empire from Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, and regrettably from the temple of Artemis in Ephesus. The building is relatively dark although the gold interior of the dome is illuminated by a circle of windows.
The Mihrab - image 1 - the mihrab is a niche placed in the wall of a mosque to indicate the direction to Mecca. The current mihrab replaced an earlier structure in the 19th Century.
The Mimbar - image 5 - the pulpit in a mosque, this marble structure dates from the 16th Century.
The Roundels - images 2,4 - four large disks hanging from the major columns were placed by the Fossati brothers during their renovations in the 19thC. The renowned Turkish calligrapher Effendi inscribed the names of Allah, the prophet Muhammed, four early caliphs, and others. They form an interesting contrast with the Christian icons in the background.
BOTH of these MUST VISIT SITES are located very close to each other, and conveniently, there is a beautiful park and fountain inbetween for a break from the history overload!
You can eat at a little Restaurant in a nice position here, or buy something and sit in the park and people watch, both is enjoyable.
HAGIA SOPHIA, (World Heritage Site) .........
This is not the 1st or the 2nd Hagia Sophia, it is the 3rd TO BE BUILT (532 - 537) ON THIS SITE.
It is HUGE and it takes a long time to look around.
Don't forget to climb the staircase to the second floor for more beauty and some lovely views outside as well.
It is best to get there at opening time as it is less crowded than later in the day, even then, there is a lot of people!
OPEN DAILY ..9.15 - 4.30PM ........CLOSED MONDAYS.
ADMISSION IS FREE ............. DONATIONS ACCEPTED.
OPEN DAILY................. BUT NOT AT PRAYER TIMES
Ladies, if you do not have a Head scarf to cover your head, then they will supply you with one at the door. Please dress respectfully!
It is also advisable to come back in the evenings and see both of these lit up, a lovely sight!There are still plenty of people around, so its quite safe when on your own!
LOCATION: BOTH are located in the Sultanhmet area, and are marked on ALL TOURIST MAPS.
Of the many mosaics within Ayasofya, these atop the ceiling of the structure are some of the most recognized. At the center is the Virgin mother with the Christ child seated upon her. To the right is the Archangel Gabriel, and to the left is where the Archangel Michael used to reside, although now all that remains is a faint shadow of the mosaic. Surrounded by a background of golden paint, the mosiacs appear to glow in the natural light let in by the many arched windows.
Another "next time"-mission for me is the Hagia Sofia-mosque (probably the third way I've spelled the name on my pages now... I'll keep it to that spelling in the future...).
Four and a half day in Istanbul rans off fast, so I never got the chance to get inside the Hagia Sofia. From the outside it looks fantastic though, and for me it's even more powerfull than the Blue Mosque.
It was built and done as early as 537, and was for many hundred years the biggest church in the world, plus also the biggest building with a roof in the world.
Actually, if you're interested in history, the church was built even earlier, some 200 years. But when a huge war erased in Konstantinopel (which later on became Istanbul) the first, and much smaller, Hagia Sofia was left in ruin.
The emperior Justinianus, who won the war, decided to build a new church, more mighty than anything else. It even became a bit too mighty. During the first couple of hundred years the roof went down three times...
Well, you can't win them all - but nowadays the roof should be safe on it's place...
When Mehmet the conquerer and his men rode into Konstantinopel in in 1453 the Hagia Sofia was saved from beinged destroyed by just Mehmet, but was at the same time changed into a mosque.
Sultan Mehmet, who he later became, also tried to build something even mightier. The architect Atik Sinan got the order, but when he had finished the Fatith Mosque the sultan was annoyed with the result, and Sinan had to live the rest of his life without his head...
Today isn't the building neither a mosque. Kemal Atatürk decided that it should only be a museum, which it still is today.
Open 9.30-16.30 (until 19.00 in the summer). Closed on mondays. Entrancefee around 15 lira.
This grand mosaic, located on the second level of Ayasofya, dates back to the mid - late 1200's. It depicts Christ holding a Book of Gospels, with the Virgin Mary to the left, and John the Baptist to the right. Most of the lower portion of the mosaic is still underneath plaster, applied after Ayasofya was turned into a mosque. Even in it's partial form though, it is still an excellent example of Byzantine art during this period.
Enrico Dandolo tombstone - image 2 -- Perhaps the least anticipated feature of the Hagia Sophia is the tombstone of Enrico Dandolo, the 39th Doge of Venice. This elderly blind and ruthless Venetian leader diverted the Fourth Crusade to Constantinople rather than Jerusalem and, with the connivance of the family of a deposed ruler of the Byzantine Empire, led an attack in 1204 which resulted in the pillage of the city, the removal of priceless artifacts to Venice, and the creation of the short lived Latin Empire in Constantinople. Dandolo died in 1205 and was buried in the Hagia Sophia. After the fall of the Latin government in 1261, locals were said to have spit on his tombstone. The Ottomans destroyed the grave, according to historic sources, but a facsimile was placed by 19th C Italian restorers of the church at a site believed to be near the original gravesite. Given his leadership in destroying the city, it is ironic to see his tombstone prominently placed in the floor of the upper east gallery.
Sultan Mahmud I Library - images 1 and 3 -- a library with ornate bronze mesh surrounds a library space in memory of Mahmud I (1696-1754 ) who commissioned a restoration of the Hagia Sophia in 1739 and established a Koranic school, soup kitchen, library, and other features creating a community-type center typical of major early mosques. The school is gone but the space is now a library most noted for its exterior walls of bronze and particularly the doors. The handles contain one of the many names for Mohammed, the conqueror. The period of Mahmud's reign was one of multiple wars with Russia and Persia, but this sultan like so many of the later sultans, was more interested in education and the arts and wrote poetry as his major achievement.
Views of the Blue Mosque - image 4 -- through open windows on the second level gallery, one is afforded remarkable views of the Blue Mosque over the domes of the Hagia Sophia, a great vista which photos cannot adequately replicate.
Corinthian columns - image 5 -- the detail and workmanship of the Hagia Sophia is remarkable, no better demonstrated than in the heads of the corinthian columns surrounding the main gallery. At the center, note the design in a circle -- the symbols of Justinian I and his wife Theodora, who commissioned the building of the church and ensured their memory on these columns.
The Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) was erected in Byzantine style between 532 and 537 AD on behalf of Justinian I, the Byzantine Empereor. Until the middle of the 15th century the building was used as an Eastern Orthodox Church. The only exception was during the Latin occupation from 1204 until 1261 when it was a Roman Catholic Church.
After the Ottoman conquest in 1451, Hagia Sophia was converted into the city's first imperial mosque. Minarets and other Islamic elements were added to the edifice.
On the order of the first Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the Hagia Sophia was transformed into a museum.
In December 2012 the entrance fee to the museum was 25 TRY. Besides the impressive architecture I especially liked the mixture of Christian and Islamic elements in the museum.
The Hagia Sophia is located on top of the small hill in the touristy Sultanahmet district. While the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) can be found on the southern side of the Sultan Ahmed Square, the Hagia Sophia stands on its northern side.
Built in the year 537 A.D. by the Roman emperor Justinian I, Hagia Sophia/Sancta Sophia/Ayasofya, whichever name you prefer :), is quite possibly Istanbul's most famous and most visited attraction. It remained the greatest church in all of the Christian world until the fall of Constantinople in 1453, when it was converted to a mosque shortly thereafter. The structure was actually a lighter beige color before it was painted red, as well as having minarets placed at each of it's four corners, after the fall of the city. But it's amazing archtecture, most noted by the huge dome atop it, and it's many arched windows around the base, make it one of the most intriguing structures to view in the city. It's many interior mosaic paintings, many still in great condition, are a fantastic tribute to it's long and interesting history. Per Atatürk's wishes, Ayasofya was turned into a museum in 1935.
Enrico Dandolo was a leader of the 4th crusade, which eventually led to the sacking of Constantinople in 1204. Dandolo came from a prominent family in Venice, and was the Doge of the city-state when the crusaders became stranded in Venice on their way to the Holy Land. Although aged well into his 70's and blind, he took a leading role in the expedition, and recruited many Venetians to take part in the crusade. After backing the son of the deposed Byzantine emperor, Dandolo led the crusaders on to Constantinople, where they defeated the Byzantine defenders. Dandalo died shortly after in 1205, and was buried here in Ayasofya. The gravemarker, which is located on the second level near the Mosaic of the Deesis, is not the actual tomb of Dandalo. The original grave was destroyed after the conquest of the city in 1453. The present marker was placed here in the 1800's by a restoration team from Italy, assuming the approximate location of the original.
If you happen to be in Sultanahmet district of the old Istanbul, go and visit Hagia Sophia. This is a must visit if you into art, architecture and history or just simply admiration of beauty. To me Hagia Sophia was a WOW factor.
Hagia Sophia was a Christian cathedral until it was converted to a mosque in 1453 by Sultan Mehmet the conqueror. It became his imperial mosque, four minarets were added.
Kemal Attaturk the founder of modern Turkey decided to convert Hagia Sophia into a museum and made it into national heritage to preserve and for the world to see.
The original Hagia Sophia was built in the fourth century by Constantine the Great. During Hagia Sophia long history it has been destroyed and rebuilt. In 532 AD it was burned during the Nika riots. It was rebuilt by emperor Justinian the First. Before that it was rebuilt by emperor Theodosius the Great.
The meaning of Hagia Sophia is the church of holy wisdom.
Now Hagia Sophia is acknowledged as one of the great buildings of the world and the remaining great of Byzantine architecture.
When you enter inside the building you will see the Byzantine Christian art, Islam religious art and the many standing marble pillars. On the ceiling you will see the oldest mosaic of the Virgin Mary and Jesus as a child. From outside you can admire the great Byzantine architecture.
Open: Tues-Sun 9am-5pm
The Hagia Sophia honors the Holy Wisdom of God ( not a saint named Sophia ) and is another of Istanbul's treasured sacred buildings. Like so many churches, it occupies a site previously used for two Christian churches and preceding pagan and presumably Greek temples. Following the burning of the second church during a riot in 532, it took only a few days before Emperor Justinian I commissioned a third and more majestic church constructed between 532-7 by two architects who were geometry professors at the University of Constantinople, Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus. Forty years would pass before completion of the many famed mosaics. It is considered the greatest surviving example of Byzantine architecture and was the largest cathedral in the world till the completion of the cathedral in Seville in 1520. Several damaging earthquakes required restorations over the next century, which included raising the dome to its current height of 60 meters and placement of exterior flying buttresses ( image 2 ).
Further alterations over the next 600 years followed earthquakes and fires particularly in the 9th C and even more damaging the iconoclastic period of the 8th C when many images and sacred objects were destroyed. In 1204, the church was looted by the armies of the 4th Crusade, with many objects removed to among other cities Venice. More than any other event, this incursion made permanent the separation of the Eastern and Western Catholic Churches. Despite all these obstacles, the Hagia Sophia remained the center of Orthodox Catholicism and home church for the Orthodox Patriarch until 1453.
The Ottoman capture of Istanbul in 1453 led to the immediate conversion of the Hagia Sophia to a mosque by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, amazed at the beauty of the church. It would remain the imperial mosque for 500 years, the Ayasofia. Initial changes included addition of a minbar and mihrab and the plastering over of all the mosaics as Islam forbid worship of human figures. The only major structural changes were made by the Swiss Fossati brothers from 1847-9 who most importantly uncovered and catalogued the mosaics before recovering them in plaster. They would remain hidden until after the secularization of the church as a museum in 1934 by Turkish president Kemal Ataturk, who renamed the church as the Ayasofia Museum. Most of the restorations have been since 1993 under the auspices of UNESCO.
The magnificent dome and minarets of the Hagia Sofia ( image 1 ) have been the model for many later Turkish mosques including the Sultan Ahmet and Rustem Pasa mosques, one of the defining features of the Istanbul cityscape.
The first church on this site was built by Constantine the Great, but nothing is believed to remain. The second church was ordered by Theodosius II and completed in 415. It would burn to the ground in 532. - in the garden adjacent the tourist exit, there are many marble blocks ( image 5 ) from this church, most believed to have been part of a massive front entrance ( image 4), and not rediscovered until excavations of 1935. Of particular interest is image 3, which is part of a relief depicting 12 lambs believed to represent the 12 apostles.