Hagia Sophia: Introduction and Tips

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.

Soft lighting inside the Hagia Sophia

Soft lighting inside the Hagia Sophia

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.

Grandeur of Hagia Sophia

Grandeur of Hagia Sophia


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.

Inside the place

Inside the place

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.

Prophetic preachings of Islam

Prophetic preachings of Islam

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!

Hagia Sophia - dome and windows...note the angels at the corners

Hagia Sophia – dome and windows… Note the angels at the corners

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.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

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!

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8 Responses

  1. My Greek husband told me about the meaning of Sophia when I mentioned that I wanted to see it and he said that to me while pounding his chest, proud Greek. Lol. I haven’t been to Istanbul though, something always comes up whenever I plan my trip there. I think it’s a beautiful place and Hagia Sophia is a sight to behold. I guess like any tourist sites, going in the afternoon is actually the best time as well to go there. Will keep that in mind. 🙂

  2. This place is so gorgeous. I can’t believe how old it is or that it only took five years to build! I would definitely need an audio guide since I don’t really know anything about it. Can’t wait to check it out some day!

  3. It was worth the 30 minute wait to see the architecture, I wonder how long the wait is during summer? I will definitely take your advice and book online beforehand. I’m visiting Istanbul this October and will definitely photograph the Hagia Sophia.

  4. What an amazing building is this! Istanbul already looks like a colourful and cultural city but this a must see I will put on my list! Your tips are really useful, I would definitely go early morning to escape the crowds. The golden details and mosaics are impressive.

  5. I’ve got to admit to that it was the Assassin’s Creed video games that got me hooked on wanting to go, and your photos have only stirred that up 10 fold!

    It looks absolutely vast, and with such a rich and varied history (I’m sure not all of it peaceful)

    Where does it stand in relation to everything else? Is it central for getting around?

  6. I’ve studied about that image of Jesus Christ in Byzantine art in my art history classes in Uni days. I really hope to visit Hagia Sofia when I get a chance! A place that’s equally important for both Christians & Islam is so endearing!!!

  7. I have never heard of this church but it does look incredible! The detailing and that dramatic lighting, you wouldn’t know it was a church straight away! Would love to visit 🙂

  8. Wow what a beautiful place. I love visiting different churches with interesting histories. I also love the tips at the end, I feel like places are always better when visited in off season 🙂

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