Its a mosque… its a church… its Hagia Sophia! Sophia means Wisdom in Greek Language. Hence, Hagia Sophia translates to ‘Church of Holy Wisdom’. The monument attracts over 3 million visitors annually and if you are in Istanbul, we highly recommend that you take the effort to be part of the 3 million, even if it means standing the ticket queue for a while and being with hordes of tourists.
If the walls at Hagia Sophia could talk, they would tell tales of earthquakes, dynasties, religions and transformations. The monument, which is now a museum, was once a church and then a mosque – it’s interiors bear testimony to the same… how I wish they could talk! Well, considering that they can’t talk, reading a guide book and renting the audio guide at the entrance seemed ideal.
The monument took approximately 5 years to construct – 532 – 537AD and was made on the orders of the Byzantine King Justinian I. Until 1453, it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire. Detailed mosaics of Christ bear testimony to the strength that the church held during these times.
In 1453, the Byzantine empire lost Constantinople to the Ottomans and the church was converted to a mosque. Hagia Sophia was a mosque from 1453 to 1931. As Islam does not allow worship of any ‘human form’, the mosaics were plastered and Islamic preachings adorned the walls.
In 1935, the monument was secularized and converted to a museum in 1935. The plaster on the mosaics has been scrapped off and one can now see the strong footings of both the religions.
There are few monuments that have witnessed such a lot and continue to stand tall to tell the tale. The monument truly deserves to be on the bucketlist!
Hagia Sophiya was the world’s largest cathedral from 537 to 1520. It is famous for its massive dome, which is flanked by two half domes. The dome is 108 feet in diameter and its crown rises some 180 feet above the pavement – a massive construction without the use of steel. As we stood under the dome, admiring the ribs that run through it, we couldn’t help wondering how the structure was built such a long time ago, when there were no cranes and gantries!
Until 1953, so long as Hagia Sophia was a church, it housed elaborate and ornate altars, bells, iconostasis, sacrificial vessels and other relics along with mosaics depicting Jesus, his Mother Mary, Christian saints and angels. When Constantinople fell into the hands of the Ottomans, all symbols of Christianity were removed and the mihrab, minbar, minarets and prophetic quotes were added.
Two cents from our end… some tips
- You can avoid tourist crowds if you visit Istanbul during off season (winter) or during shoulder season. We were there in February and still had to wait in the line to get the tickets for about 30 minutes.
- Everyone thinks that early morning is the best time to get here and the place is over crowded at opening time. Suggest visiting early in the afternoon.
- Book tickets online to save time or buy a museum pass if you intend to visit a other museums as well.
- Hagia Sophia is closed on Mondays. Check for opening and closing times during the month of Ramadan.
- Timings: Entrance closes one hour before closing time
- Summers (mid April to Sept end): 900 hrs to 1900 hrs; Tickets available till 1800 hrs
- Winters (Oct to mid April): 900 hrs to 1800 hrs; Tickets available till 1600 hrs
- Ticket Price: 40 TL.
- Recommend taking the audio guide or joining a tour. The Lonely Planet Turkey has a great description of the interiors of the monument or simply access the Hagia Sophia website on your tab while you are there.
As always…send us an e-mail if you need any further details. Glad to help!
Let the travellers’ tribe grow!