Istanbul Hagia Sophia Museum History, Information, Hours, Maps, Guides
Hagia Sophia simply means Church of the Holy Wisdom. The building is certainly one of the most impressive buildings ever constructed in the world. Built by the most succesful emperor of Byzantine Empire, Justinian, in 530s. Hagia Sophia Museum is the most visited sight in Istanbul.
Hagia Sophia History
This incredible temple was begun to be constructed in 532 and was completed in 537. It was commissioned by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian to two of the important architects of the century: Named Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus. These architects not only built the biggest structure of humanity until then but charmed the city folk as well. The enthusiasm and curiosity generated by Hagia Sophia went on for centuries and it served as the biggest religious building of Byzantine Empire for a millennium.
Hagia Sophia Center
Nika Revolt And Collapse Of The Theodisios Hagia Sophia
Due to the destruction of the previous church by a riot in the same place, Hagia Sophia was built. Named as Nika Revolt, this uprising took place during the reign of Justinian, the greatest Emperor of Byzantium. During this riots, the city was seriously damaged by over 40.000 rioters and Theodosius Hagia Sophia, which was there before Hagia Sophia, was demolished.
The ancient columns and remnants on the garden date back from this era. Belisarius, who was ordered by Justinian to end the riot, suppressed the riot by killing over 30.000 people. Afterwards, Justinian initiated a rebuilding of the city and Hagia Sophia, the biggest temple ever seen, was built.
Hagia Sophia Courtyard
Architectural Creations And Dome Of Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia was the greatest church in Christendom for a thousand years. Justinian’s church remained as the largest church of the world until St. Peter’s Basilica was constructed in Rome 1000 years later. It was a legendary building throughout the medieval age. Hagia Sophia’s huge dome (56 meters high) was a daring engineering feat in the 6th century and architects still admire Hagia Sophia’s brilliant architecture and innovations.
Hagia Sophia Architecture
Hagia Sophia View From Square With Minarets And Tombs Of Sultans
Ottomans added these minarets long years after they convert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Ottomans paid utmost respect to the sacred building and proclaimed it as the protocol mosque. Head of all mosques in Ottoman Empire. Four Ottoman Sultans buried in their tombs which are located in the courtyard.
Hagia Sophia Exterior
Hagia Sophia As A Mosque
Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror converted it into a mosque soon after the conquest of the Constantinople in 1453. Classical Ottoman Mosques built after the conquest was inspired by the architectural innovations of Hagia Sophia.
Hagia Sophia Corridors
Hagia Sophia Museum Travel Guide
The mighty Hagia Sophia had served as Istanbul’s most respectful mosque until 1935 when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, recognizing its historical significance, made it a museum.
Although most of the building is still a museum, a room on the Topkapı Palace side was opened in 2007 as a masjid (little mosque) and call to prayer is announced from the minaret above it.
Outer Narthex Of Hagia Sophia
This is where you enter the Hagia Sophia Museum. Many people however, skip this section to walk into the heart of Hagia Sophia for obvious reason: to see the dome. I strongly recommend you to spend some time in the outer narthex to absorb the 1500 years of history.
You may have a look on the useful information panels to see the map of ancient Constantinople, reconstruction pictures of Megale Ekklesia (1st generation church) and Theodosios Hagia Sophia (second generation church) and plan of current Hagia Sophia church (3rd and last church).
There are some other information related to Ottoman Hagia Sophia or simply Ayasofya Mosque. Information panels display how it looked like as a mosque, how thebig scale restorations took place in 19th century and finally how it was converted into a museum by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk , the first president of Turkish Republic.
Hagia Sophia Outer Narthex
Inner Narthex And Imperial Gate
The inner narthex is a great place to prepare yourself to get into the striking Naos (Center) of Hagia Sophia. You may enjoy with golden mosaic ceiling and Byantine symbols. Marbles are eye-catching too. There are nine large doors to be entered to main section. Among all these doors, imperial gate is of course most attractive one. Besides one of the best mosaic of the church (Emperor Leon VI) places over the Imperial Gate.
Hagia Sophia Inner Narthex
Hagia Sophia Naos (Center) And Apse
This is the most exciting part. The famous Dome of Hagia Sophia, Seraphim Angels, Marble Jar, Library, Sultan’s Lodge, Muezzin’s Lodge, Mihrap (Altar) and Mimber (Pulpit) all placed in the main section. On the top of all these, magnificent mosaic of Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ placed on the top of the center. This mosaic is the oldest one in Hagia Sophia. The initial ones are destroyed by the Byzantine Emperors, during the iconoclastic period.
Hagia Sophia Altar
Hagia Sophia Omphalion Coronation Stage
You may see colourful round marbles on the ground. This is where the Byzantine emperors were crowned. The marble room behind it called as Muzezzin’s Lodge. Muezzin is the person who chants from minarets.
Hagia Sophia’s Decoration
Marble Jar Of Pergamum Antique City
As mentioned before, Ottoman Sultans paid the utmost attention, care and respect to the building. Ottoman Sultan Murad III, picked this beautiful marble jar from Pergamon antique city and ordered it to be brought to Hagia Sophia to provide refreshing water to the visitors. There is a tap on the other side. It does not function any more.
Hagia Sophia Marble Jar
Six winged Seraphim Angels
Seraphim Angels are beautiful frescoes of Byzantine masters. As Islam orders no human face to be displayed in mosques, its face was covered for long years alongside with the other mosaics. There is a busy restoration work for the last couple of years. During these restorations, they revealed the face of one of the Seraphim Angels. There are totally four of them places on the corners of the dome.
Hagia Sophia Seraphim Angel
Marbles Of Marmara (Marble) Sea Used For Decoration
The architects of Hagia Sophia, Anthemius and Isidore the Elder were in rush, during the construction of the church. The maecenas, Justinian, was restless and and he wished to see his masterpiece before he dies. Architects had hard time to finish it in five years while the sword of Damocles hanged over their head.
So they had to find some practical solutions for the interior decorations. They used these elegant marbles that are brought from islands of Marmara Sea. In the old lenguage it was mentioned as Marble Sea due to its rich marble sources.
Columns of Arthemis Temple Of Ephesus antique City
It’s beileved that architects did not produce any particular marble columns for Hagia Sophia. They recycled the columns from Greco Roman antique cities. As they also did for the Basilica Cistern.
These massive columns that are placed to the very center of the building, reported to had been brought from renowned Artemis Temple of Ephesus. Temple of Artemis was one of the wonders of the ancient world.
Hagia Sophia Columns
Library Of Sultan Mahmud I Of Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Sultan, Mahmud I, had built this elaborate library in order to keep religious books in it. Visitors of the Hagia Sophia mosque had used this elegant room to read Quran and feel the mystic atmosphere of this ancient temple.
Hagia Sophia Library
Empress Lodge On The Upper Gallery
Empress and the other noble ladies had watched the religious ceremonies from this lodge which is placed on the upper gallery. There is a black marble that shows where the throne of the empress exactly located. Famous queens of the history, Theodora or Zoe used the lodge of the empress for their Hagia Sophia visits.
Hagia Sophia Empress Lodge
Marble Door On The Upper Gallery
Beyond the Marble Door had been the restricted point for visitors. There was no entrance for the public when it was a church. Patriarch of Contantinople and Emperor of Byzantine Empire made some meetings or rested after religious services.
Hagia Sophia Marble Door
Grave Of Enrico Dandolo On The Upper Gallery
Enrico Dandolo was not welcomed in Constantinople. He was the Doge of Venice and he was the commander of the Crusader armies during the fourth crusade. The Latin army led by him looted the Constantinople and established a Latin Empire to last from 1204 to 1261. Finally they left the Constantinople after 57 years of occupation but gave a great damage to the city.
Grave Of Enciro Dandolo
Viking Script On The Upper Gallery
Varangian Guards were the elite troops of Byzantine Military. They were given a special mission: to protect the Emperor. They well proved their service, fighting skills and loyalty at the Battle Of Manzikert. The emperor is taken prisoner by the army of Alp Arslan, the Seljuk Empire‘s ruler. However the Varangian Scandinavian warriors which hold the center of army fought to their death, in order not to give away their emperor.
Viking Script is located on the upper gallery after passing the Marble Door on the left-hand side. As mentioned before, no public entrance to this particular area. Except for the patriarch, high-priests and personal guards of the emperor. One of these guard might had been bored during one of the meetings or such, and carved his name on the marble wall. The perfunctory written word, could be seen as ancient example of grafitti.
Viking Script By Byzantine Varangian Guard
Emperor Theophilus Bronze Door Named “Nice Door”
It’s the oldest architectural element which is dating back to the 2nd century B.C. The door is decorated with plant and geometric relief designs had been dismantled from a pagan temple belonging to the Ancient Period. The extremely heavy bronze door brought by Emperor Theophilos from city of Taurus and placed to its current location in 838.
Hagia Sophia Theophilos Door
Ottoman Fountain Added When Hagia Sophia Was A Mosque
Muslims wash their face, hand and feet to clean up themselves before getting into a mosque to pray. This ceremonial process is called as ablution. Ottomans adorned the Istanbul with beautiful fountains. Either in the streets to provide water to people for their house needs or in the mosques for religious purposes. This nice example of Ottoman architecture, placed in the courtyard of Hagia Sophia.
Hagia Sophia Fountain
Mosaics of Hagia Sophia
Most of the 30 million tiny mosaic tiles which cover the church’s interior are covering the ceiling of the first floor. If you look carefully, you would see that the ceiling is covered with mosaics on the first floor and with frescoes on the second. The interior of the building is filled with scaffolding for the last 20 years.
Golden Mosaic Decoration Of Ground Floor
Millions of little pieces of gold to ornament the high ceiling of Hagia Sophia center and narthexes.
Hagia Sophia Mosaic Ceilings
Frescoes And Paintings On The Upper Galleries
Hand painted Christian figures of Byzantine Art. Upper galleries are completely covered with these frescoes.
You may see the most impressive examples of medieval Byzantine mosaics on Hagia Sophia’s second floor. The three famous mosaics; Deesis, Zoe and Komnenos mosaics are all located in the upper gallery.
Deesis stage, which is regarded as the start of renaissance in Byzantine painting, is located on the western wall of Northern Gallery. John the Baptist on the right side and Virgin Mary on the left side and Jesus Christ in the middle can be seen in the portrayal. It describes the prayer of Virgin Mary and John the Baptist to Jesus Christ for the mercy of people during the Last Judgement.
Hagia Sophia’s Deesis Mosaic
Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Turkish Bath
Hagia Sophia Hürrem Sultan Bath (1556) is located across the street from Hagia Sophia. The mosques were social complexes in the Ottoman time. They used to provide facilities such as Madrasa (School), Hamam (Turkish Bath), Imaret (Public Soup Kitchen) and Türbe (Tomb). Since Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque, some of these buildings added afterwards. Building is still functioning as Turkish Bath. It is the most luxurious and expensive spa-like Turkish Bath in Istanbul Old City.
Opening Or Visiting Hours Of Hagia Sophia Museum
Hagia Sophia visiting hours during the high season are as follows:
15 April to 30 September: 09:00 am to 7:00 pm; the last admission at 6:00 pm
Hagia Sophia visiting hours during the low season are as follows:
1 October to 14 April: 09:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; the last admission at 4:00 p.m.
The museum is closed on the first day of the Ramazan Bayramı (Ramadan Feast), and several days of Kurban Bayramı (Sacrifice Feast)
Admission Cost Or Entrance Fee of Hagia Sophia Museum
Admission cost for Hagia Sophia 40 Turkish Lira; children under the age of 12 can enter for free. (Passport is needed for free ticket)
Photos taken by the author All Rights Reserved
Istanbul Private Tours By Local Tour Guide Serhat Engul
Whats App: + 90 532 256 93 12
Further Recommended Reading:
- History Of Byzantine Empire
- Byzantine Emperor Justinian
- Hagia Sophia Architecture
- Mosaics Of Hagia Sophia
- Hagia Sophia Facts
By Serhat Engül