Hagia Sophia was built 1500 years ago by the Byzantine emperor Justinian. Built with techniques far beyond its time, the building remained the largest church in the world for a thousand years.
Hagia Sophia, which was used as a church from the 6th to the 15th centuries, was the city’s holiest building. Emperors were crowned here during the Eastern Roman (aka Byzantine) period.
After the Ottomans took Constantinople in 1453, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. Ayasofya (locally known by this name) was likewise a privileged place of worship during the Ottoman era. It was well preserved during this period.
In the Republican times, Ayasofya remained a museum for about 90 years. However, as of 2020, it was turned back into a mosque. Hagia Sophia is still one of the most visited historical places in Istanbul.
Table of Contents
Insider Tips About Hagia Sophia
As a local guide, I would like to give you useful tips during your visit to Hagia Sophia. In this article, you can find answers to the most frequently asked questions about Hagia Sophia.
1. What is the best time to visit Hagia Sophia?
Since Ayasofya is now a mosque, it can sometimes be closed for worship. However, they do not close the doors unless there are congregational prayers such as Friday prayers.
The best time to visit Hagia Sophia is between 9 am and 11 am. Because there is no prayer during these hours and the building will definitely be open to visitors.
But Fridays are the exception. If you’re going to visit the building on a Friday, it’s a good idea to go in the afternoon. Because mosques in Istanbul are closed for half a day due to Friday prayers.
2. Are the mosaics of Hagia Sophia open?
Most of the Byzantine mosaics inside Hagia Sophia are open. However, since the upstairs gallery is under renovation, it is not possible to see all of it. (as of December 2022)
There are mosaics from the 9th and 10th centuries on the lower floor of the building. So what you can see downstairs are the oldest Byzantine mosaics. These include The Virgin and Child mosaic, the Emperor Leo VI mosaic, and the Emperors Constantine and Justinian mosaic.
On the upper floor, there are mosaics of Empress Zoe, Emperor Komnenos and his family and Christ Pantocrator (Deesis). These are relatively recent mosaics dated between the 11th and 13th centuries.
3. What are the things to see in Ayasofya?
Here you can see hundreds of artifacts from different periods. Byzantine mosaics come first among the things to see in Hagia Sophia. However, even the columns and the marbles covering the walls of Hagia Sophia are historical artifacts.
There are wooden plaques decorated with calligraphy from the Ottoman period. There is also a library that was added by the Ottomans. Here you can see items of classical period Ottoman decoration.
The most important decorative elements in the classical period of the Ottomans were pencil works, Iznik tiles, mother-of-pearl inlaid cabinets, Turkish rugs and woodwork decorated with calligraphy.
4. Should I visit Hagia Sophia with a guide?
Ayasofya has a history of 1500 years and is identified with many legends. If you are a history buff and want to hear these stories from a knowledgeable person, yes, you should visit Hagia Sophia with a guide.
Even the mosaics, columns and marbles that adorn the building have their own stories. In addition, the building is identified with the most important characters of Byzantine history. On the other hand, there are also stories about the Ottoman sultans.
It is recommended to join guided tours to learn about all this. You can make a reservation from this link to take a guided tour of Hagia Sophia. Tours are organized under the guarantee of GetYourGuide, an international travel platform.
5. What are the things to do around it?
The Hippodrome is important because it is one of the few Byzantine sites in Istanbul. Especially if you have a guide with you, you can listen to many stories about the races here.
The Hippodrome was also the place where rebellions began in the Byzantine Empire. Especially the Nika Revolt was very famous in history and broke out against the Emperor Justinian, who built Ayasofya.
Apart from this, Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hammam is also very close. You can book this place which is among the best Turkish baths in Istanbul and relax after your tour.
In addition, there are sultan’s tombs in the courtyard of the building. Some of these tombs are decorated with magnificent tiles. They reflect the classical period when the Ottoman Empire was at its peak.
Hagia Sophia Entrance Fee 2023
There is no longer an entrance fee for Hagia Sophia. Before the building was converted into a mosque, the entrance fee was 100 Turkish Liras. As of 2023, Hagia Sophia can be entered free of charge, like all other mosques in Istanbul.
Hagia Sophia Opening Hours 2023
Hagia Sophia opening hours are between 09:00 am and 10:00 pm for 2023. If you visit Hagia Sophia with a guided tour, you will learn about the history of the building. You can book your place on the guided group tour by clicking this link.
If you visit Hagia Sophia during prayer times, you cannot cross the barriers in the middle of the main section. This can limit your experience of enjoying the architecture of the building.
Other mosques in Istanbul (including the Blue Mosque) do not accept visitors during prayer hours. Since Hagia Sophia is not completely closed during prayer times, it is possible to see at least the indoor part (albeit limited).
However, as I mentioned above, Friday prayers are an exception. On Fridays, Hagia Sophia may be closed from morning to early afternoon due to congregational prayers.
Information about Hagia Sophia visiting hours was last updated on 10th of August 2023. If anything changes, I will update the post again.
In conclusion, Hagia Sophia is a must-see for those visiting Istanbul. Since the building is located in Sultanahmet, the heart of the Old City, it is very easy to reach.
However, in addition to this, there are other places such as the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, the Istanbul Archaeological Museums and the Great Palace Mosaic Museum.
The museums in Sultanahmet are usually very crowded during the tourist season. For this reason, you can consider buying a museum pass. This card covers the cost of visiting several museums. You can see a detailed breakdown of which museums you can enter from the Istanbul museum pass article.
But more importantly, when you have a museum card, you will not wait in line at the entrance. Especially in the spring months, you can wait up to 1 hour in front of the ticket offices of the museums in Istanbul.
After your tour in Sultanahmet, you can take a walk to Eminonu, which is full of Istanbul’s best local restaurants and dessert shops. The famous historical shopping place Spice Bazaar is also located here.
Written by Serhat Engul