In my second visit I didn't enter Sainte Sophie, but could appreciate the influence that it had in many constructions around it, and the justice that makes it the central point of Istanbul tourism.
It is an absolutely incredible place, but for history lovers it is something really special. We had spent a lot of time researching historical stuff before we went there, but when you go knowing the details it takes your perception to the whole new level. I strongly recommend everyone, who is going to visit this place to read a little bit before. Actually this is an absolutely unique place in the worlds culture, religion and history,
In 1592 the Mausoleum for Sultan III Mehmed was constructed after a design by architect Davud Aða.
The building is one of the largest Ottoman tombs with a hexagon layout, double domes and an exterior with marble coating.
After surviving the queue at the entrance it's time to buy a ticket of 20 TL.
Directly after the ticket counter is a small café with terrace to prepare yourself for the visit.
You enter the Aya Sofya through it's main gates to arrive in the front hall. The main area is forwards; to the left are the stairs to the gallery.
Next to the Aya Sofya is the old Baptistery. A small part of the original Byzantine building is still present in one of the corners near the exit of the Aya Sofya.
The other parts were converted into the mausoleum of Sultan Mustafa and Ibrahim in the Ottoman period.
I don't intend to write in detail about this wonderful and ancient building. In my opinion it is an absolute 'must' for anyone visiting Istanbul and, in consequence, you will find hundreds of tips on this site and hundreds of internet articles about it, its contents and its history. that's why I didn't make a 'Things to do' tip about it after my 2010 visit, though I did make a travelogue which you can find here.
I can only say that, although I already had a decent knowledge of the place, I was amazed by the sheer size of its interior and spent a long, long time exploring its ancient art and artefacts.
But I did not explore alone. The chances of visiting Haghia Sofia/Ayia Sofia without a crowd of others are slim at any time of year and in September 2015 the sheer length of the daily queue foiled my intention to re-visit. To give people an idea I took a panoramic shot of the queue at around 8.55am, just before the opening at 9am.
It seems that it is possible to 'skip the line' with certain tickets but, to be honest...and despite the vast size of the place...I'd prefer not to share the experience with quite so many individuals (locals as well as visitors, because it was a public holiday) and tour groups. So I'm hoping to make my return visit at a less popular time of year.
If it's your first visit to Istanbul, grit your teeth and join the queue (perhaps leave your visit until later in the day?). You can't visit the city without seeing this magnificent place. It is simply stunning.
What a lot of history lives in those walls!
Most of the best and worst of human story is documented in this church. Several times built and destroyed, the final building, expected to be (and maybe it was) the biggest and most beautiful church in the world, was built in the 6th century.
But story kept flowing over it. Eight centuries later, the Ottomans conquered the town, and transformed it in a muslim mosque.
In 1935 Ataturk, at last, transformed it in a cultural museum. Now, with its christian decorations emerging from the Muslim coverings, it becomes a monument to tolerance and religious coexistence. Impossible to miss...
I remember my first visit to this building. I was visiting my boyfriend, later husband, and he was at work, so I went sightseeing on my own. The area around Hagia Sophia, or Ayasofya as the Turks call it, is very hassley, because it is filled with carpet salesmen who keep trying to drag you off to their shops. One of these salesmen attached himself to me and I could not get rid of him. Part of the reason for going inside Hagia Sophia was simply to get away from him and even then he kept calling to me: "I'll wait for you just outside. Don't worry, I'll wait for you. " I spent much of my visit working out how to get out of the building without encountering him again.
Hagia Sophia means Church of the Divine Wisdom. It is located in the Sultan Ahmet area of Istanbul between Topkapi Palace and Sultan Ahmet Mosque.
Hagia Sophia was built in the year 537. From that date until 1453, it was mainly used as the Eastern Orthodox Cathedral and as the seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The only exception to this was between 1204 and 1261 during the fourth crusade when the cathedral was ransacked and converted into a Catholic Church by Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice. Many of the cathedral's relics were stolen and dispersed to churches in other parts of Europe at this time. After the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453 Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque and remained a mosque until 1931. In 1935 it was secularized and opened as a museum. Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in the world until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520.
Hagia Sophia was originally built as a church between 532 and 537 during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. It was located on the site of two earlier Christian churches. It was designed by two Greek scientists. One of these was Isidore of Miletus, a physicist, and the other was Anthemius of Tralles, a mathematician. The building is an impressive piece of engineering with its massive dome. This dome has, however, collapsed several times during major earthquakes and has frequently had to be rebuilt. The original church contained a collection of important holy relics and a 15 metre high silver iconostasis.
In 1453, when Mehmet the Conqueror seized the city, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. The cathedral's bells, altar, iconostasis, sacrificial vessels and other relics were taken away. The mosaics depicting Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Christian saints and angels were removed or plastered over. Islamic features, for example, the mihrab - which shows the direction of Mecca, minbar - pulpit, and four minarets, were added. Until 1616 when the construction of the nearby Sultan Ahmed Mosque was complete Hagia Sophia was the most important mosque in Istanbul.
Due to the plastering over of the inside of the church when it was converted into a mosque, the inside of Hagia Sophia is plainer than you might expect. There are, however, still some frescoes on display. There are also several gigantic circular disks on display. These are inscribed with the names of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, the first four caliphs: Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali, and the two grandchildren of Mohammed: Hassan and Hussain. They were created by the calligrapher Kazasker Mustafa İzzed Effendi who lived from 1801 to 1877.
Ayia Sofya is the forth biggest Cathedral in the world with its 56m high dome. Once a church, that became a Mosque, and now a Museum: This is one of the most extraordinary building in the history of architecture.
The museum is open everyday, except on Mondays.
09:30 – 16:30
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 history of this monument is interesting and complex. It was built the first time in honour of the Holy Wisdom (in greek Hagia Sophia and in turkish Aya Sofya) by emperor Costantino and then it was enlarged by Costanzo II. It was totally destryed during the fire of 404. Today nothing is left of that first church.
Giustiniano wanted it to be rebuilt, bigger than before. 10 thousends workers built it again in 5 years and half.
20 years later some quakes caused the partial collapsing of the dome, that was rebuilt but smaller than before.
In 1453 Costantinopoli was conquired by the Ottomans and its name was changed into Istanbul, Hagia Sophia became a Mosque.
In 1935 the first turkish president of the Republic of Turkey, Ataturk, transformed Hagia Sophia in a museum.
Hagia Sophia Museum is available everyday for visiting except Mondays. Visiting hours of winter schedule are 9-17 Visiting hours of summer schedule are 0919
Ticket price i s 20TL.
The main entrance to Hagia Sophia (Ayasofyia) leads through Imperial gate in the past used only by the Emperor himself. The moment you come inside, you are struck by the immense size of the construction. The nave is carried by a dome of 30 m in diameter, which is carried on four pendentives and supported by four massive pillars. Procopius, a Byzantine historian, put it that way: "It seems not to be founded on solid masonry, but to be suspended from heaven by that golden chain and so cover the space".
Unfortunately, many of the beautiful mosaics covering the walls of the temple have been lost completely. From what remains, the mosaic of the Virgin Mary with the child, which is in the apse, is one of the most impressive. She's sitting on the backless throne, holding little Jesus in her arms and two archangels Michael and Gabriel are on her both sides. (Gabriel is partly and Michael largely destroyed).
To see other mosaics it is recommended to climb the galleries. Hagia Sophia has two levels: a ground floor and galleries above. A part of the gallery was used as an imperial lodge, from which an empress could observe a service.
In the upper south gallery we can see Deesis considered to be the finest mosaic in the church. It dates back to 1261 and shows Jesus standing between Mary and Saint John.
Hagia Sophia was declared a UNESCO wrld Heritage Site in 1985.
The museum is open every day except Mondays.
Entrance fee is 25TL