Located in the heart of Istanbul, Turkey; Hagia Sophia planned as a Greek Orthodox Christian Basilica, then an imperial mosque as a symbol of the conquest and today serves as a museum that gets millions of people visiting this masterpiece.
The Church is dedicated to the “Holy Wisdom”, built by the orders of Emperor Justinian I of East Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) in a miraculous five years and opened on December 27th 537 after being sanctified. It has been prestige and pride of the Byzantine Empire, center of the Orthodox world and was revered as the “The Great Church” “Megale Ekklesia” for 916 years. Later it was esteemed by the Muslim world and the Ottoman Empire, valued above all as the “Great Mosque” (Cami-i Kebir) of the Sultans for 481 years, finally, has become one of the most adorable and important museum structures of The Republic of Turkey. Throughout the ages, it has been the fascinating symbol of Istanbul for those visiting Turkey spellbinding them instantly. Inevitably it became a favorite subject of numerous legends both in the Byzantine and Turkish periods.
Hagia Sophia has a thrilling effect at first sight with its dimensions and architectural structure. Although there is a sizeable basilica planned churches from the earlier times of Byzantine Empire that cover larger areas, they are more comparable to long halls divided into three naves. None of the structures in that time had the extensiveness of the interior under such a massive cupola. The Pantheon in Rome had a larger one but this dome, supported by a thick cylindrical wall was only “large”. On the other hand, the cupola though smaller than that of Pantheon's is able to cover a larger area and therefore creates a more impressive interior by means of a sophisticated system composed of four pendentives, semi-domes, vaults, and arches. As compared to a cupola that is carried by the main body of the structure, the sizable cupola sitting on four individual pendentives is a revolutionary innovation from the point of design, technicality and aesthetics. Even though the one covers half of the central nave, it is consummated with two semi-domes in such a perfect form that it gives the impression as one colossal cupola dominating the whole of the interior space. Basilica, on the other hand, is completely hidden from the eye. In fact, this ingenious design is responsible for making the structure unrivaled and powerful. Furthermore, the light effect inside the edifice makes this unique museum all the more mystical and awe-inspiring. A large number of windows encircling the base of the cupola produces a stream of light that creates the illusion as if the dome is floating on a pond of light. Procopius, in his book named “Buildings of Justinian”, described the dome looked as if it were “suspended by a golden chain from Heaven”. Light glittering in the golden mosaics and reflecting from marble artifacts combines with the extraordinary design to create an unforgettable ambiance. Legendary Hagia Sophia impresses the visitors most with its vast interior encapsulated underneath a single massive dome designed in an intellectual way of architectural genius and with its overpowering atmosphere.
Hagia Sophia has a deeper meaning aside from being an impressive edifice, which is the conscious choice of the emperor who had it built. It is known that the central dome was the symbol of imperial ideology in the Roman architectural iconography. In ancient Rome, the Pantheon used to make this known to the masses. Therefore Constantinople, the capital of Eastern Roman Empire (Nova Roma) needed a structure to bear the imperial symbol beside its actual function. Nevertheless, it is not only a monumental building ordered by a powerful emperor to serve this purpose; it indicates “the new center of the world”. This idea coincides with Justinian's attempt to embody entire Mediterranean zone or the whole world of the time under Roman rule and it is an architectural outcome of this vision. It is the materialized result of this claim and surely the architectural style was in accordance with the idea besides its dimensions. With this fresh “Pax Romana”, not only the whole world would become one under his banner, but also would become one religion; because it was a Christian Empire. One God, one religion, one empire and one emperor was the formula new Pax Romana presented to the world in the 6th century. This idea that came into being in the imposing dome that integrated the spacious interior that was perceived by the visitors and even by those who saw the cathedral from afar outside the city walls and was transferred to multitudes as a message. It is verified by the stories and the impressions told by the visitors of all the ages.
Hagia Sophia has become one with Istanbul. In the Byzantine Period, this grand imperial cathedral declared Constantinople, the capital of the Christian Roman Empire, as the essence of both the empire and the Christian world.
It bore the same mission in the Islamic period, too. Being the most important symbol of the conquest of Constantinople; it was the core of Istanbul and the Muslim world, as well as the Ottoman Empire who ruled them both. This supreme, one of a kind structure is a divine verification of the truth by Godly Resolution. It should be mentioned that it was seen as the manifestation of “Godly Resolution” in both Byzantine and Ottoman sources.
There is not any other structure in the history that has influenced and shaped Ottoman mosque architecture and thus Ottoman civilization as such. This greatest artifact and masterpiece of all times that Justinian had left to Istanbul had been surpassed only after a thousand years. Although, there is a likeness between Hagia Sophia plan and the plan of Suleymaniye Mosque, the latter with the dynamism brought to the exterior, is a structural criticism and response of Architect Sinan to the cumbersome construction of it. The ongoing structural and aesthetic problems in the museum itself and the other centrally domed buildings have been solved gracefully in artworks of Architect Sinan. The Selimiye Mosque was the outcome of his long painstaking studies of the earlier structures both from the previous civilizations and his own constructions and efforts to integrate aesthetic perfection into an edifice.
Open every day.
Best time to visit depends on the season while we recommend visiting late afternoon in summer and early morning in winter.
We highly recommend you to have a private guide on of our old city tours.
Entrance Fee: 40,00.-Turkish Lira
Museum Visiting Hours:
High Season (15 Apr. - 25 Oct.) Open: 09:00 / Close: 19:00 - Last entrance time: 18:00
Low Season (25 Oct. - 15 Apr.) Open: 09:00 / Close: 17:00 - Last entrance time: 16:00