Hagia Sophia Museum

Ayasofya Müzesi

For over a thousand years Sancta Sophia Cathedral had been the largest church in the Christian world until construction of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Just think – Hagia Sophia is almost one thousand and a half years old! It is an absolutely unique place that unites Islam and Christianity under one roof, that houses both mosaic icons and calligraphic inscriptions on bucklers.

Major cathedral embodied the power of Byzantine Empire: tremendous ceremonies in front of crowds of people, precious church plates and the newest architectural technologies of the time. Before occupation by Latins in 1204 cathedral had been keeping numerous holy relics, including the Turin Shrine.

The current structure is the third building on this spot. Ruins of the second basilica that dates back to 415 and that replaced the first structure of 360 can be found on the left from the main entrance to the cathedral. The legend goes that Emperor Justinianos who ordered to construct the current building had the intention to erect the cathedral greater than the Holy Temple in Jerusalem! Byzantine historians have it that three annual budgets of Byzantine Empire were spent, more than ten thousand people were employed within five years (532-537) for construction of the Great Church which later gave the name to the cathedral. The inauguration of the new basilica took place in 537.

There are nine doors leading inside the basilica. The Imperial Gate was the main entrance and was reserved only for the emperor. According to a legend the Imperial Gate was made of boards from the Noah’s Ark. The huge dome of the cathedral is famous for the light that reflects everywhere in the interior of the nave, giving the dome the appearance of hovering above this. This effect was achieved by inserting forty windows around the base of the original structure. The basilica is richly decorated with mosaics throughout the centuries, the most ancient dating back to 9 century. They all are pure pieces of art. Mosaics of the 6th century partially survived in the narthex, windows and the vaults.

After Constantinople was taken by the Ottomans four minarets were added to Hagia Sophia together with mihrab and minbar. Experts have the opinion that most of the frescoes and mosaics survived because they had been covered with plaster for several centuries. Hagia Sophia remained a mosque until 1931 when in 1935 it was opened as a museum and magnificent frescoes and mosaics could be shown to public.

Among the legends of Hagia Sophia is St Gregory’s Column - at the northwest of the building there is a column with a hole in the middle covered by bronze plates. The column is said to be damp when touched and have supernatural powers, if you put your finger inside, feel the damp and turn it 360 degrees around, your wish will come true. One of the marble slabs keeps the handprint that tourist can see. The legend goes that this handprint belongs to Mehmed II who entered the church riding a horse when the city was conquered. They say that sultan’s horse kicked over the traces and Mehmed leaned against the wall to stay in the saddle. However historians argue that Mehmed entered the basilica on foot dusting the turban as the sign of peace.

Address: Ayasofya Meydanı
Opening hours: 15 Apr - 25 Oct Tue - Sun 9 am – 7 pm, 25 Oct – 15 Apr Tue - Sun 9 am – 5 pm, Mon closed
How to reach: Sultanahmet (TR1)
Coordinates: 41.008447, 28.980061