The Hagia Sophia of Istanbul : A Story of 3 Cities

The glorious and stunning Hagia Sophia of Istanbul!

I have been twice and I would go again and again. The former church, mosque and now official museum has a saintly ambiance combined with Byzantine and Islamic architecture. Sitting in the old city part of Istanbul called Sultan Ahmet, it joins other nearby landmarks belonging to the UNESCO World heritage list for Turkey.

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image: http://turkishtravelblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Hagia-Sophia-Istanbul.jpg

Hagia Sophia of Istanbul

The large dome, Christian frescoes and Islamic calligraphy adorning plaques hanging from the upper galleries perfectly sums up the history of 3 cities; Istanbul, Constantinople and Byzantium. I cannot criticize the building in any manner and even the long queues to get in, do not defer me from singing its praises.

How is it possible that a manmade construction can evoke so much respect from me?

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image: http://turkishtravelblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Hagia-Sophia-artist-impression.jpg

Hagia Sophia artist impression

(Artists Impression : Image Credit)

Well, its history is impressive but I urge visitors to head to the upper gallery and just stand there in silence for 5 minutes. As you do this, look around and take in the architecture. Imagine the people that crafted those walls, ceilings, and balustrades.

Despite being one of Turkey’s top visited attractions, the Hagia Sophia has a calm and quiet atmosphere. I think I can correctly assume that everyone who steps inside is likewise in awe.

One of the best descriptions I have read about it was penned by the author and poet Richard Tillinghast. In his book, an Armchair Traveller’s History of Istanbul, he wrote…

Once inside, I take off my hat. I am standing in a building that is a millennium and a half old. I want nothing to obstruct my vision, as I look up into the dome, which the ancients saw as being suspended from heaven on a golden train.

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When Was the Hagia Sophia of Istanbul Built?

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Hagia Sophia

Although the Hagia Sophia is extremely old, this building that we see today is not the original. The first Hagia Sophia was built in 360AD. A fire in 404AD destroyed the roof and then another fire; ten years later destroyed the rest of it.

As a result, the Hagia Sophia was completely rebuilt in 415AD. It seemed however that its future was doomed because 117 years later, it was again destroyed in the Nika Riots of Istanbul. After being rebuilt, it suffered minor damage over hundreds of years but not enough to completely destroy it and we can see its fine glory in the building that stands today.

Interesting Facts about the Hagia Sophia of Istanbul

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image: http://turkishtravelblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Islamic-plaques-in-Hagia-Sophia.jpg

slamic plaques in Hagia Sophia

In Turkish, it is called Ayasofya
The name Hagia Sophia means the Church of Holy Wisdom
The plaques of Islamic calligraphy were added in the 19th century and are made from wood
The Hagia Sophia was used as a church for 916 years
It was then converted into a mosque in 1453 and used as such for 482 years
In 1935, it become an official museum of the Turkish Republic
It belongs to the old part of the city that is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
There are two floors; the ground and upper gallery levels. The latter is reached by an uneven, winding stone staircase so make sure you have good shoes on!
Opening Hours and Entrance Fee

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Hagia Sophia Istanbul Turkey

In winter, The Hagia Sophia of Istanbul is open every day from 09.00am to 5pm. Closing time extends to 7pm in the summer. On the first day of religious festivals in Turkey, it opens at 1pm.

Ticket booths shut one hour before though, so to enjoy your visit at a slow pace, arrive before then. Tickets at time of publishing are 30 Turkish lira for adults. Children under 12 go free.

Further Reading

You don’t have to visit Istanbul to see the interior of the Hagia Sophia. Check out this cool 360 degree viewer
If architecture is your passion, this is a rather easy to understand floorplan of the lower and upper levels.
This is the official Government website for the museum
Depending on the time of day you visit, queues for the Hagia Sophia can be long. I waited 40 minutes to get in. If you plan to visit other places in Istanbul, take a look at the Istanbul Tourist Pass that helps you to beat the queues.
Question: Have you seen the Hagia Sophia?

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Hagia Sophia Turkey

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