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Written by Karena on August 24, 2022 Share on

The legendary Hagia Sophia of Istanbul, Turkey

One of Turkey’s most famous landmarks is the stunning Hagia Sophia. The name translates to “Holy Wisdom” in Greek. from greek It stands in the heart of Istanbul’s old city. Hundreds of people visit there to see antiquities and architecture from two of the country’s most famous empires. Hagia Sophia was originally a Byzantine church. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the world’s greatest archaeological achievements. Its dramatic background grants it admiration and respect from all faiths and occupations. Thanks to its massive dome, Islamic calligraphy, and bright mosaics. The awe-inspiring structure was constructed as an orthodox church and later used as a mosque for centuries. It has been a focus for religious organizations attempting to rebuild it as a Muslim worship spot in recent times.

Hagia Sophia
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History of the Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia cathedral was built in 537 AD. That is when Istanbul (formerly named Constantinople) was the Byzantine Empire’s capital. At the time, Hagia Sophia was an engineering marvel, and it was the world’s largest building for a time. It continues to be the largest cathedral in the globe for almost 1,000 years. Back in 1453, the city of Constantinople lost to the Ottoman Empire. So the Hagia Sophia repurposed into a mosque. However, most of the structure is intact. In 1935 the mosque turned into a museum by Atatürk, the leader of the Republic of Turkey. The Hagia Sophia Museum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site today.

Hagia Sophia at sunset
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Started off as a Church

Hagia Sophia began its establishment as a church. The riots in 404 CE destroyed the original wooden construction. After which its reconstructions and expansion took place. The second Hagia Sophia, however, did not remain for long, as fires during the Nika Revolt in 532 CE destroyed it. However, everyone chose not to abandon the church. Justinian I started building a third, completely new basilica a few months after it burned down. This was going to be bigger and better than anything else anyone had ever seen. Two architects managed to complete it within the next six years. An earthquake caused considerable damage., but the structure hasn’t changed much. For almost 1,000 years, Hagia Sophia was a church.

Converted to a Mosque

In 1453, Constantinople lost to the Ottoman Empire after decades of invasions, attacks, and wars of religion. Sultan Murad II retitled the city as Istanbul. He gave permission for plundering the church.  The church had become deteriorated by this time, with doors coming off hinges and damaged windows. Mehmed II, his successor, reconstructed the structure and converted it into a mosque. In June 1453, he conducted the very first Friday prayer here, and the structure became Istanbul’s first imperial mosque. He added the wooden minaret (a distinctive tower used for the call to prayer), the large chandelier, a mihrab, and a minbar pulpit. For about 500 years, until 1934, Hagia was a mosque.

Inside of Hagia Sophia
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Currently a Museum

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first Turkish founder and president of modern Turkey, liberalized Hagia Sophia and turned it into a museum. Authorities had made it unlawful to worship here for decades. The Turkish government then designated a modest hall in the gallery as a prayer space in 1991. Chris Spirou, a Greek-American politician, founded the Free Agia Sophia Council of America in 2007, a US-based organization dedicated to restoring the structure to its intended use as a Christian church. Several protests arose during the next decade. Pushing for it to be reopened as a mosque. In 2016, the first Islamic prayers in nearly 85 years were held at Hagia Sophia. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan approved the building’s renovation back to a mosque after years of activism and disagreements.

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Visiting the stunning Hagia Sophie Museum

The scale of these structures is astounding, and one of the greatest places to click pictures is near Sultanahmet Square’s fountain. The Sultans’ Tombs, a series of three smaller domed buildings with elaborate Islamic themes and inscriptions, are also located on the Hagia Sophia grounds. Tourists should go to the upper gallery and remain silently for 5 minutes. Look around and soak in the architecture while you do so. Contemplate thee exquisitely detailed walls, ceilings, and symbolic archways. Despite being one of Turkey’s most popular tourist destinations, Hagia Sophia maintains a serene and tranquil ambiance.

Hagia Sophia dome
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Tips on visiting –

  • It’s good to go around the outside of the Hagia Sophia to get a better view of the massive dome, buttresses, and minarets, before heading inside.
  • Best time to visit is from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the summer months(April to October), and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the winters (November to April). They take enteries untill 1 hour before the closing time.
  • It is optional, but however you can hire guides if you would like to know about the museum in detail.
  • You might have to wait in queue, and it can take anywhere between 20-30 mins to get in depending on the crowd.
  • We suggest you to wear comfortable footwear as there is a lot of walking involved. They have two floors. Whereas you can access the upper gallery via stairs alone.
Hagia Sophia garden
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Fun facts about Hagia Sophia

  • The Hagia Sophia museum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, attracting millions of tourists each year.
  • It was the largest domed building back when it was constructed. Hence, Hagia Sophia was an architectural wonder at the time it was built.
  • Hagia Sophia wasn’t always it’s name. It was originally named as “The Great Church” due to it’s enormous size. It was then renamed Ayasofya after the Ottoman takeover. It’s now known as the Holy Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque or the Ayasofya Müzesi.
  • One of the 107 columns of Hagia Sophia, known as the ‘wishing column’ or ‘perspiring column,’ is clad in bronze and is located in the northwest wing. When you touch it, it feels moist. It has a hole in the middle that is said to have St. Gregory’s blessing. It is said that if you stick your finger through and it emerges wet your wishes will be granted. And you will be healed of any sickness.

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Turkey tourism
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The Hagia Sophia’s walls are a combination of Islamic art and Christian symbols. Even after being among Istanbul’s most popular tourist sites, the inside of Hagia Sophia is a breath of fresh air. Throughout the years, millions of visitors have visited Hagia Sophia to cherish its beauty and to experience its spirit of peace, harmony, and religious tolerance. There you have plenty of reasons to put everything else aside and see this marvel, which will undoubtedly exceed your expectations. Start planning a trip to Turkey to take advantage of fantastic offers on the must-see attractions. If you need guidance, do contact Pickyourtrail‘s destination experts for the best Istanbul holiday packages who will be more than happy to help you customize your Turkey package.

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