Church of the Divine Wisdom (Hagia
Sophia in Greek) in Sultanahmet,
(map), is one
of the most
impressive and important
buildings ever constructed.
wide, flat dome was a daring
engineering feat in the 6th century,
and architects still marvel at the
building's many innovations.
Sophia in Greek, Sancta
Sophia in Latin, Ayasofya in
Turkish, it was built in 537 AD on the
site of Byzantium's acropolis (map)
Justinian (527-65 AD).
the greatest church in Christendom,
and was meant to be. According to
Prof. Robert Osterhout, it was built
to surpass the gigantic Church
of St Polyeuchtos erected
by Julia Anitzia, scion of the line
of Theodosian emperors.
her church, a "recreation" of the
Temple of Jerusalem, to symbolize her
wealth, power and legitimate claim
to the throne of Byzantium. Justinian
had to out-build her to establish his
own legitimacy—and he did.
church remained the largest church
ever built until St Peter's
constructed in Rome 1000 years
later. (Julia's church,
by the way, was destroyed by an earthquake.
You can see a few pitiful
it near the traffic under/overpass
between the Istanbul Belediye
Hall] and Aqueduct of Valens [Bozdoğan
Being the world's most impressive
building, it's no wonder that Mehmet
the Conqueror proclaimed it a mosque
soon after his conquest of the city
from the Byzantines in 1453.
It served as Istanbul's
most revered mosque until 1935 when Atatürk,
recognizing its world-historical significance,
had it proclaimed a museum,
as it is now.
Everyone wants to see Ayasofya—it is the most-visited site in Turkey. Consider buying an Istanbul Museum Pass to avoid the ticket line...and save money! More...
(Tip: if you employ a private guide, you'll also jump the line.)
Although most of the building is still
a museum, a room on the east
side was opened in 2007 as a prayer-place (İbadete
Açık Kısmı), and
the call to prayer is proclaimed from
the minaret above it.
of the first things to see when
you're in Istanbul.
Luckily, it's right next to Topkapı
Palace, the Blue
Mosque and the Byzantine Hippodrome,
and right across the street from Yerebatan
Most of the 30
million gold tesserae (tiny
mosaic tiles) which cover the church's
interior—especially the dome—have
recently been restored
to the brilliance they boasted
1500 years ago. The interior was
filled with scaffolding for 17
years, until March 2012. The
scaffolding was removed that year, but in 2013 some scaffolding returned so that work may continue.
sure to climb to the mezzanine
level to see the splendid Byzantine mosaics. (Although the mezzanine used to have more limited visiting hours, now it is open during the same hours as the museum.)
The Hürrem Sultan Hamamı (Turkish bath of the Ayasofya mosque complex), on the southwest side of Ayasofya next to the park with the fountain, was designed by master architect Mimar Sinan and built for Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. It has been beautifull restored and is again in service as a hamam (Turkish bath). More...
Ayasofya is one of
the stops on Efendi
Istanbul Walking Tour, a good
way to have a look at the major sights.
wrote a short article for Travel & Leisure magazine
(US) about Ayasofya entitled "Ayasofya:
the Perfect Space."
Hagia Sophia and its mezzanine gallery (with the mosaics) are open every day except Monday, from 09:00 am till 19:00 (7 pm) in summer, till 17:00 (5 pm) in winter.
The museum is closed in the morning on the first day of the Ramazan Bayramı, and several days of Kurban Bayramı.
Admission costs TL40; children 12 and under free. Consider the Istanbul Museum Pass.
Hagia Sophia Museum
Sultanahmet, Eminönü, İstanbul, Turkey (map)
Tel: +90 (212) 522 1750, 522 0989
Fax: +90 (212) 512 5474
—by Tom Brosnahan