When you visit the Sultanahmet Square, you will find yourself between the symbolic structures of Istanbul; Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. This two historical buildings are the highlights of the city and definetly must see places.
Majority of the visitors from overseas countries call it ‘Saint Sophia’ but this name is totally wrong. Its true name is Hagia Sophia and Hagia means divine and Sophia means wisdom. It was the church of the Divine Wisdom.
When was it built?
Today’s Hagia Sophia was built on the ruins of two former churches. So, it is the third church built on the same spot. First church here was built to replace the Artemis Temple on the site. Constructions had been started by Constantine the Great and opened by his son Constantine II in 361 AD. They named the Church Megale Ekklesia which means Great Church. It was heavily damaged during the uprisings in 404 AD. So, in 415 Emperor Theodosios had another church built as replacement. We name it Second Hagia Sophia. But, unfortunately second church was totally burned down during the Nika Revolt in Constantinople in 532 AD.
Finally, today’s building was commissioned by Emperor Justian between the years of 532AD – 537AD. It was built in 5 years by estimated 10k workers.
It is the master piece of architects Isodoros of Miletus and Anthemius of Thralles. It is one of the greatest surviving example of Byzantine Architecture. Also it is interior decoration has an great artistic value with the mosaics and marble pillars.
It has basilical plan and the main dome is about 55 meters or 180 feet high from floor. The dome is rest on 40 arched windows. It has 2 floors and its horseshoe shaped upper gallery is also decorated with mosaics.
Numerous buttresses have been added throughout the centuries. In the 16th century additional 24 flying butresses added under the guidance of Architect Sinan. That reinforcement helped the structure to survive against to earthquakes.
Church , Mosque or Museum ?
Hagia Sophia was the greatest church of Christian world from construction till the fall of Constantinople in 1453. When Constantinople was captured by Ottomans, it was immediately converted into a mosque. Then it served as a mosque till 1934 when it was converted into a museum.
The Museum was re-converted into a Mosque in 2020 and now it is still being used as a mosque. It is open to tourists except for Prayer Times. As it is not a museum no longer, there is no admission fee.
Tour to Hagia Sophia
Please check our Best of Istanbul Tour which covers Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and Grand Bazaar