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Hagia Sophia of Istanbul
Imagine a building standing in the same place for 1500 years, the number one temple for two religions. The headquarter of Orthodox Christendom and the first mosque in Istanbul. It was constructed within only 5 years. It's dome was the biggest dome with 55.60 height and 31.87 diameters for 800 years in the world. Depictions of the religions side by side. Coronation place for the Roman Emperors. It was the meeting place of the Sultan and his people. That is the famous Hagia Sophia of Istanbul.
What time does Hagia Sophia open?
It is open every day until the night prayer. There is no entrance fee or ticket.
Where is the Hagia Sophia located?
It is located in the heart of the old city. It is easy to access with the public transportation.
From the old city hotels; Get the T1 tram to Sultanahmet tram station. From there it takes 5 minutes of walk to arrive there.
From Taksim hotels; Get the funicular (F1 line) from the Taksim Square to Kabatas. From there, take the T1 tram to Sultanahmet tram station. It is 2-3 minutes walk from the tram station to reach there.
From Sultanahmet hotels; It is within walking distance from most hotels in the Sultanahmet area.
How long does it take to visit the Hagia Sophia and what is the best time?
You can visit within 30 to 45 minutes on your own. Guided tours take around 1-1.5 hours. There are lots of little details in this building. As it is functioning as a mosque right now, one should be aware of the praying times. Early morning would be an excellent time to pay a visit there.
Hagia Sophia History
The majority of the travelers mix the famous Blue Mosque with Hagia Sophia. Including the Topkapi Palace, one of the most visited sites in Istanbul, these three buildings are on UNESCO's heritage list. Being opposite to each other, the most significant difference between these buildings is the number of the minarets. A minaret is a tower on the side of the mosque. This tower's primary purpose is to make the call to prayer in the old days before the microphone system. Blue mosque has 6 minarets. Hagia Sophia has 4 minarets. Aside from the number of the minarets, another difference is the history. Blue Mosque is an Ottoman construction. Hagia Sophia is older than Blue Mosque and it is a Roman construction. The difference is about 1100 years.
The building has several names. Turks call the building Ayasofya. In English, the name of the building is St. Sophia. This name causes some problems. The majority thinks that there is a saint with the name Sophia and the name comes from her. But the original name of the building is Hagia Sophia. The name comes from ancient Greek. The meaning of Hagia Sophia in ancient Greek is Divine Wisdom. Dedication of the church was to Jesus Christ. But the original name of the church was Megalo Ecclesia. Big Church or Mega Church was the name of the original building. As this was the central church in Orthodox Christianity, there are beautiful examples of mosaics inside the building. One of these mosaics shows Justinian the 1st , presenting the church's modal and Constantine the Great presenting the modal of the city to Jesus and Mary. This was a tradition in the Roman Era. If an emperor orders a building, his mosaic should be decorating the construction. From the Ottoman Era, there are lots of beautiful calligraphy works. The most famous being the holy names in Islam adorns the building for about 150 years. Another one is graffiti, which comes from the 11th century. A Viking soldier named Haldvan writes his name in one of the galleries on the second floor of Hagia Sophia. This name is still visible in the upper gallery of the building.
In history, there were 3 Hagia Sophias. Constantine the Great gave the order of the first church in the 4th century AD, right after he declared Istanbul as the Roman Empire's capital city. He wanted to show the glory of the new religion. For that reason, the first church was again a big construction. Since the church was a wooden church, the first was destroyed during a fire.
As the first church was destroyed during a fire, Theodosius II ordered the second church. The construction started in the 5th century and the church was demolished during Nika Riots in the 6th century.
The final construction started in the year 532 and finished in 537. In a short 5 year time of construction, the building started functioning as a church. Some records say that 10.000 people worked in construction to be able to finish in a short time. The architects were both from the western side of Turkey. Isidorus of Miletos and Anthemius of Tralles.
After the construction, the building functions as a church until the Ottoman Era. The Ottoman Empire conquered the city of Istanbul in 1453. Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror gave the order for Hagia Sophia to turn into a mosque. With the order of the Sultan, they covered the faces of the mosaics inside the building. They added minarets and a new Mihrab (the direction to Makkah in Saudi Arabia today). Until the republic period, the building serves as a mosque. In 1935 this historic mosque turned into a museum with the order of the parliament. The faces of the mosaics were opened one more time.In the best part of the story, inside the mosque, one can still see the symbols of two religions side-by-side. It is an excellent place to understand tolerance and togetherness.
In the year 2020, the building, for a final time, started functioning as a mosque. Like every mosque in Turkey, visitors may visit the building between morning till night prayer. The dress code is the same for all of the mosques in Turkey. Ladies need to cover their hair and need to wear long skirts or loose trousers. Gentleman can not wear shorts higher than the knee level. During the museum's time, prayers were not allowed, but now anyone desiring to pray can go in and do so in the praying times.
The Final Word
While you are in Istanbul, missing on visiting Hagia Sophia, a historical wonder, is something you will regret later. Hagia Sophia is not just a monument but a representation of various religious cultures. It holds immense significance that every religion wanted to own it. Standing under the tombs of such a powerful building will take you on a venerated tour of history. Avail of amazing discounts by starting your majestic tour by buying an Istanbul E-pass.