Hagia Sophia is the most precious historical building in Istanbul. Hagia Sophia, which is visited by an average of three million people a year, has become a mosque again since 2020. In this article, you can find things to know while visiting Hagia Sophia.
Since Hagia Sophia is no longer a museum, you do not need to buy a ticket at the entrance. However, due to security checks, long queues can still occur at the entrance of Hagia Sophia.
If you would like to visit Hagia Sophia with a guided tour, you can book a guided group tour via this link. There are many details in the 1500-year-old Hagia Sophia that the first time visitor cannot notice. For this reason, it is recommended to take a Hagia Sophia tour ticket with a guide.
Things to Know About Hagia Sophia
In this article, I want to tell you about things to know about Hagia Sophia under a few titles. As a tourist guide in Istanbul for 15 years, I have noted the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions here.
1. What is the Meaning of Hagia Sophia?
The meaning of Hagia Sophia is Church of Holy Wisdom. It remained the most important church of Byzantine Constantinople for 900 years. During the Ottoman period, it was the most important mosque in Istanbul. Hagia Sophia was turned into a museum during the Republic period and remained as a museum for about 85 years. With a decision taken in 2020, it was converted into a mosque again.
The picture you see above was taken from the terrace of Seven Hills Hotel in Sultanahmet. Hagia Sophia offers photography enthusiasts beautiful shots from all sides.
2. Is Hagia Sophia a Church?
Hagia Sophia was a church in the Byzantine period. It was built in 537 by Justinian, the most famous ruler of the Byzantine Empire. The historians of the period reported that the dome seemed to be chained to the sky. Behind the magnificent glory of Hagia Sophia were two mathematicians, Anthemius and Isidore.
The people of the Middle Ages had difficulty in grasping the fascinating architecture of Hagia Sophia and associated it with mysterious legends. It was believed that the huge dome of Hagia Sophia was carried by four seraphim angels. (can be seen in the corners of the dome in the picture above) Hagia Sophia was the first place to hide when an earthquake struck the city or when the enemies besieged the city.
By 557, Hagia Sophia was only 20 years old. The dome was destroyed by a major earthquake that shook the city. The architects were no longer alive, but the patron of the building, Justinian, was still alive. He commissioned an architect known as Young Isidore to rebuild the dome. This young man was the nephew of the original architect Isidore the Elder.
Young Isidore built the dome 7 meters higher than it was before. Thus, the dome of Hagia Sophia reached a height of 56 meters. This dome, built for the second time, has survived to the present day.
3. Is Hagia Sophia a Mosque?
Yes, today Hagia Sophia is a mosque. However, this has a long history. Because Hagia Sophia was a mosque in the Ottoman period and a museum in the republic period. It was turned back into a mosque very recently.
Constantinople, the last city left from the Byzantine Empire, was conquered by the Ottomans in 1453. Mehmed II, the first Ottoman sultan who entered the city, turned Hagia Sophia into a mosque. The Hagia Sophia, which was declared a protocol mosque, was highly respected by the Ottoman sultans for 500 years. In this process, the name of the building was simplified and started to be called Ayasofya by the locals.
Some of the sultans wanted to be buried in the courtyard of Hagia Sophia because it was the most important mosque in the city. Today, the tombs of sultans in the courtyard of Hagia Sophia can be visited free of charge. The tombs dating back to the 16th century offer beautiful examples of Ottoman classical architecture and art.
Each of the Ottoman sultans tried to repair or decorate the Hagia Sophia. For example, the flying buttresses in the eastern wing of the building were built by Sultan Selim II in the 16th century. Sultan Selim, who saw the building leaning to the east, commissioned Mimar Sinan, the most famous architect of Ottoman history, to take immediate action.
During the reign of Sultan Mahmud I, a monumental gate and library were added to the building. Abdulmecid, who built the Dolmabahce Palace, hired the architects Fossati Brothers for a major restoration.
4. Are the Mosaics in Hagia Sophia open?
Yes, the mosaics in Hagia Sophia are open for visitors to see. However, according to Islamic rules, they are covered during prayer times. Because in a mosque, there should not be pictures or sculptures showing human figures.
There are three museums to visit in Istanbul for those who are interested in Byzantine mosaic art. The first of these is of course Hagia Sophia. However, Kariye Mosque, known as Chora Church in the past, has even more detailed mosaics than Hagia Sophia. In addition, there is the Fethiye Museum, formerly known as Church of Theotokos Pammakaristos.
The most valuable mosaic of Hagia Sophia is the Deesis Mosaic on the second floor. In this mosaic dating from the 13th century, Jesus was depicted with the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist.
5. Why The Hagia Sophia Is So Famous?
Hagia Sophia is famous in the world because it is the symbol of a breakthrough in world architectural history. Hagia Sophia was the largest religious building in the world in the 6th century when it was built and remained so for nearly a thousand years.
Hagia Sophia was the highest domed temple in the world at the time of its construction. During the Renaissance, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome was rebuilt with dimensions exceeding Hagia Sophia. Other major cathedrals were built in Europe over time. However, even today, Hagia Sophia is among the top 20 religious structures in the world.
The architects who built Hagia Sophia had used a technique to be admired for centuries. The single dome in the center of Hagia Sophia and the two semi-domes surrounding it create a giant prayer area in the center. The fact that the dome can be easily viewed from every corner of the building is a feature that is not even found in famous cathedrals.
6. How Much is a Ticket Price for Hagia Sophia?
Hagia Sophia ticket price was around 100 Turkish Liras when it was a museum. Since it was converted into a mosque in July 2020, there is no entrance fee. You no longer need to buy the Istanbul Museum Pass to visit Hagia Sophia. However, it is still worth buying as it is valid in all museums in the vicinity.
7. What are the Opening Hours of Hagia Sophia?
Hagia Sophia opening hours are between 09:00 in the morning and 5:00 in the evening. However, the mosque is closed to touristic visits during prayer times. The best time to visit the Hagia Sophia is from 9:00 am to 12:00. The mosque will be open continuously for 3 hours between these hours.
If you type “Istanbul Ezan Saatleri” on the Google, you can check the current praying times of the mosques in Istanbul. When you look at the image above, you will see how the prayer times are displayed on the official website. For example “Öğle” means noon. The mosques will close about an hour before the prayer time reported here.
Since the prayer time is 13:00, the closing time I have mentioned will be around 12:00. Approximately half an hour after the time of the call to prayer will be opened again. (around 13:30). In other words, the mosque will be closed for a total of 1.5 hours during each prayer period.
You can check the current prayer times from this link that goes to the official page of the Turkish Religious Affairs Directorate. You will see a chart like the image above. Please also note that Hagia Sophia and its neighbor Blue Mosque will be closed completely to touristic visit at 17:00.
8. What Day is Hagia Sophia Closed?
Hagia Sophia is open to visitors every day of the week. It is written in most of the guide books that Hagia Sophia is closed on Mondays, but this is an old information. When Hagia Sophia was a Museum, it was indeed closed on Mondays. However, it is now open every day as a mosque.
9. How to Get to Hagia Sophia?
In order get to Hagia Sophia, you must first come to Sultanahmet. Sultanahmet is the heart of Istanbul Old City. The administrative name of Istanbul Old City is Fatih. You will see the Historical Peninsula of Istanbul as Fatih on the maps.
You can come to the Sultanahmet district in Fatih by tram. It’s very centrally located and accesible from Taksim, Karakoy, Galata, Sirkeci or Eminonu easily. These are the location where popular hotels located.
The most convenient means of public transport in Istanbul to go to Hagia Sophia is the tram. If you leave the tram at Sultanahmet Tram Station, you can easily walk to Hagia Sophia which is only five minutes walk from there.
10. How to Take a Guided Tour of Hagia Sophia?
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.
Participants of this tour meet with their guides at the entrance of Hagia Sophia and enter quickly. If you tour with a guide, you will discover many things that you could not learn by yourself.
Things to Know about Hagia Sophia by Serhat Engul