Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Turkey. Description, photos.

Hagia Sophia Cathedral (Hagia Sophia) in Istanbul

Hagia Sophia Cathedral (Saint Sophia Cathedral) in Istanbul

Summer season (April 1 – October 31) from 09:00 to 18:00 hours. In winter from 09:00 to 17:00. Closed to tourists during prayer hours.

Ayia Sofia is the place of pilgrimage of all guests of Istanbul without exception. And this is not surprising. Ancient temple, survived for its centuries-long history seems all the possible trials, maintained an incredible attraction and energy.

Until 1453 the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Constantinople was the epicenter of Christian life in the vast region. When these lands came under Ottoman rule, the cathedral was turned into a mosque.

For a long time the cathedral was more of a museum than a functioning temple, but on July 10, 2020 Ayia Sofia regained its status as a mosque.

The building of Aya Sofia is truly grandiose. The power, beauty and former importance leaves no one indifferent. The general architectural solution of the rectangular shape, resembling a classic basilica. Only the dome here has a height of 31 meters and diameter of 55.6 meters. In the corners it is supported by columns of 24.3 meters in height. In the cathedral there are 9 gates.

The greatest pride of the cathedral are the unique Byzantine mosaics.

Hagia Sophia Cathedral (Saint Sophia Cathedral) in Istanbul


On the site of the present temple for centuries stood the Church of St. Sophia, which was damaged in the fire of 532. The Great Emperor Justinian I, who ruled the Byzantine Empire at that time, ordered to start building a new cathedral on this place. Already after 5 years, in 537 the temple was built and inaugurated. For more than 1,000 years the Cathedral of St. Sophia has been a well-known and significant place for any Christian.

Some of the most valuable relics and shrines were lost to the temple as a result of the Fourth Crusade, which took place in 1204. Some of them are irretrievably lost, some are now housed in the Venetian Cathedral of San Marco.

Mehmet the Conqueror, who conquered Constantinople, was unable to destroy the temple. The majestic beauty of the Cathedral served him well, and he survived. It happened not only with Aya Sofia – many churches and temples of Constantinople managed to take root in Istanbul.

Hagia Sophia Cathedral (Saint Sophia Cathedral) in Istanbul

It was decided to rebuild the cathedral for the needs of the mosque. For this purpose a minaret was built near the temple, wooden at first. Later the new mosque received three more minarets.

The 16th century brought its own – the mosque in Ayia Sofia got its mihrab, which indicated to Muslims where Mecca was located, the place for the muezzin, where the ezan (call to prayer) sounds and a special throne.

In the 18th century, Sultan Mahmud I added a library to the mosque. Then, according to Islamic tradition, a special place for ablutions was built in front of the entrance to the temple. The mosque had its own elementary school and offices for the clergymen.

During the Ottoman Empire in Ayia Sophia created the tomb – here are buried sultans and other representatives of ruling dynasties, such as Mehmet II, Mustafa I, Selim II and others.

After Mustafa Kemal Ataturk came to power and proclaimed the Turkish Republic, the temple began to be restored, paying special attention to mosaics and paintings. In 1935, the temple officially received the status of a museum and became available to visitors.

The cathedral regained its status as a mosque in the summer of 2020. The old decree of 1934, which began turning the cathedral into a museum, was annulled on July 10, and the first Friday prayers were held as early as July 24.

Hagia Sophia Cathedral (Saint Sophia Cathedral) in Istanbul

Cathedral inside, mosaics

Once inside the temple, note the part on the right of the entrance with the unusual stonework in the form of multicolored intertwining. This is the coronation part, where Roman emperors were enthroned.

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The entire cathedral is supported by a set of columns, all together they have more than a hundred.

The inner walls of Ayia Sophia are covered with marble and magnificent mosaics. The mosaics combine gold, silver, glass and stone elements. Researchers attribute them to the period when the Macedonian dynasty ruled.

About ten years later, mosaics depicting the 16 prophets of the Old Testament and 14 saints were created. Of all the mosaics only a part has survived. Some of the frescoes have survived, thanks in large part to the plaster that was once used to cover the walls of the mosque over the old images.

At the end of the IX century in the Cathedral of St. Sophia is a mosaic with the face of Christ. He is represented seated on the throne. In his hands is the Gospel, opened on the page with the words “Peace be with you. I am the light of the world.”

Also in the museum you can see a portrait-mosaic devoted to the Emperor Alexander. The portrait is unique in that it was made alive.

In Ayia Sophia are preserved and relics from the Ottoman era, such as lamps in bronze – personal gift of Sultan Suleiman to the mosque.

Hagia Sophia Cathedral (Saint Sophia Cathedral) in Istanbul

Ticket prices for 2022 tickets to Hagia Sophia.

Entrance to the mosque for all visitors is free.

Please note that the cathedral is the most visited landmark in Istanbul and there is usually an impressive line at the entrance.

Hagia Sophia Cathedral (Hagia Sophia) in Istanbul: sightseeing tours and excursions

Working Hours

The operating hours of the cathedral depend on the season. During the summer (April 1 – October 31), the museum is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. In winter season Ayia Sophia Cathedral closes earlier, at 17.00. It is also worth bearing in mind that access for tourists is closed during prayer hours.

In the cathedral there are traditional changes in the schedule associated with religious holidays, such as Ramadan. Going to Istanbul on these days, separately specify the schedule of the mosque in advance.

Interior of Hagia Sophia Cathedral (video)

How to get to Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia is located in the center of the European part of Istanbul, in the most popular and visited area of the city – Sultanahmet, on Atmeydanı Caddesi.

For those who stayed in this area of the city (and most tourists prefer it, here are the main attractions and a mass of hotels), a walk to Aya Sofia will not take more than 15-20 minutes on foot, no matter what street you settle down.

From other parts of Istanbul (e.g. Ataturk Airport, Aksaray, University) you can take the T1 express tramway, which stops at Sultanahmet Square.

How to get from the Sultanahmet stop to Hagia Sophia Cathedral – Google Maps

If you live near the Galata Tower, Istiklal Street or Taksim Square, the best way to go from Taksim is to take the funicular down to the Kabataş stop. From here, the T1 streetcar runs from Kabataş-Bağcılar to Aya Sofia as well. This route is also convenient if you live near a metro station – you just need to take the metro to Taksim, and then the rest of the way to Aya Sofia go as above.

From more distant areas of the city it is often convenient to use the ferry – the right station Eminönü Harem is a 10-minute walk from Aya Sofia.

You can also take a cab to the mosque by calling a car. When planning such a trip, note that Istanbul is a very densely populated city with very active and dense traffic, with traffic jams that can last for hours. Often public transport with dedicated lines on the roads, turns out to be a much faster and more convenient way to get.

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Hagia Sophia Cathedral (Mosque) in Istanbul: mystery, mysticism, history (Ayasofya-ı Kebir Camii)

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul is an outstanding monument of Byzantine and world architecture, a symbol of the Golden Age of Byzantium, sometimes called the “Eighth Wonder of the World”.

The cathedral is named after the wisdom of God (from the Greek sofia – wisdom).

The Cathedral (Mosque) of St. Sophia includes two religions: Christian and Muslim. Built in 537, the cathedral has been repaired and restored many times, and was a museum until 2020. Its official name was “Museum of Hagia Sophia.

Just recently, in June 2020, the question of changing the status of Ayia Sofia to a mosque again was raised. The State Council of Turkey annulled a 1934 decision in which the Hagia Sophia became a museum. Already on July 10, the status of the cathedral was changed and since July 2020 – Hagia Sophia has become a mosque.

Officially, the new name of the cathedral now sounds like Ayasofya-ı Kebir Camii (Aya Sofya-ı Kebir Mosque).

A unique cathedral rising majestically above the Hippodrome square. The centuries-old atmosphere of the place and the beautiful interior, preserved to this day, is worthy of visit.

Hagia Sophia Cathedral: history of its construction

Hagia Sophia, the Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul

Hagia Sophia Cathedral

For five years (532-537) ten thousand workers toil over the construction of the new symbol of Constantinople.

To build this unique temple the Byzantine ruler Justinian hired two great architects of the time – Isidore of Miletus and Anthymius of Trallus. To help these talented craftsmen a hundred more architects were employed, under the direction of each of whom there were a hundred stonemasons. All in all 10,000 workers (5,000 on each side) were engaged in building the cathedral. Yustynian spared no expense in erecting the temple. Every day he put on a simple linen cloth and personally supervised the course of the construction. The workers were paid a daily wage.

So that the construction of the shrine did not stop, a monetary tribute was collected from all the Byzantine estates. The entire treasury of the empire, collected over 5 years, could not cover the costs. It is known that only the choir and pulpit spent the budget of Egypt in a year! The emperor ordered marble and stone ruins of various buildings to be supplied to the capital from all over the country. For example, unique columns were brought from Rome, Athens, and Ephesus, which to this day marvel in their grandeur and article. White marble slabs were sent from Prokonos. Pink marble was brought from Phrygia, red and white marble from Jasos, and delicate green marble from Karistor. The huge marble stones were sawed so that from veins there were various images – figures of animals, people, trees, plants, fountains, etc.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia Cathedral

It was probably the most unusual construction in the history of the Byzantine Empire. Most of the building materials came from shrines belonging to almost all pagan religions. For example, the porphyry columns of the lower tier of the cathedral were brought from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus and the Temple of the Sun at Baalbek. The lime mixture was prepared using barley water and the cement mortar was mixed with oil. The upper altar board was generally made of a newly invented composition – a mixture of gold and precious stones.

What was worth the idea of construction alone – the temple of St. Sophia in Constantinople was supposed to surpass the famous temple of King Solomon in Jerusalem.

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Most of the marble used in building the temple was brought to Constantinople from the Anatolian deposits, the Mediterranean basin, a few more ancient quarries, as well as from the famous Athenian Mount Pentelicon, from whose marble slabs the Acropolis Parthenon was built in honor of the Goddess Athena 10 centuries before the appearance of St. Sophia.

The temple was made of brick, but much more expensive material was used for decoration. It used ornamental stone, gold, silver, pearls, precious stones and ivory. Investments such as these put a great strain on the empire’s coffers. Eight columns were brought here from the famous temple of Artemis at Ephesus.

According to historical accounts, about 130 tons of gold (320,000 pounds) were spent on the construction. Thus, the Temple of St. Sophia was the most expensive project during the entire existence of the Byzantine Empire.

The construction of the Temple of St. Sophia was carried out under one of the most famous rulers of Byzantium – Justinian. It is with his activity associated the strengthening of the power of the Byzantine Empire.

The temple was under construction for about five years, about ten thousand workers were working on it and on December 27, 537 the cathedral was solemnly opened. Marble, stone and bricks were used as building materials, as well as material was brought from distant churches that were all over Byzantium. During the construction of the cathedral special attention was paid to the dome – so that it would not collapse in earthquakes, special bricks were used, light and strong, which were made from materials on the island of Rhodes. Inside, the cathedral was decorated with expensive stones. Over time, the Cathedral of St. Sophia has been destroyed several times and then rebuilt.

Hagia Sophia Cathedral

Today the cathedral (mosque) of Hagia Sophia looks like this

When Constantinople was conquered by the Crusaders in 1204, they made the church Catholic and drove out the Orthodox priests. At that time a great number of treasures were taken out of the temple barbarously.

In 1453, the Byzantine Empire was invaded by the Ottoman Turks. It was during this period that Fatih Sultan Mehmet (1451-1481) made the cathedral into a mosque for Muslims, which was the main mosque until 1935.

On February 1, 1935, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the Council of Ministers decided to transfer the mosque to the status of a museum, which opened its doors to local and foreign tourists.

On July 15, 2020, the status of the museum was again changed to a mosque.

As long as the cathedral has existed, it has always been the focus of all religions of the world. The cathedral was both Orthodox and Catholic, and then became Muslim. The cathedral is still a shrine to religious people today, but at the moment it acts as a museum.

Hagia Sophia: architecture

The entrance to Hagia Sophia Cathedral is through a spacious courtyard with a fountain in the center.

Hagia Sophia Cathedral

The dome of Hagia Sophia Cathedral

In total nine doors lead to the temple, through the central door only the emperor or the patriarch had the right to enter.

Once inside the shrine there were 214 window openings, but today there are only 181 (the missing ones were closed by buttresses and later constructions).

In addition to the Ottoman siege the Hagia Sophia suffered many cataclysms including two earthquakes that did not pass without a trace for the church. The damage was so severe that in the 19th century there was a threat of total destruction. The disaster was avoided only thanks to Sultan Abdul-Medjid, who invited restorers from Italy to restore the shrine.

Experts claim that the walls of the shrine have amazing for that time parameters of durability. The builders are suspected of achieving such a result because of the ash leaf extract being mixed with the main mortar.

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Mosaics in the Cathedral of St. Sophia

In the past, the walls of the temple, or rather their tops, were decorated with paintings of various subjects and mosaics. In 726-843 years, during iconoclasm, these beauties have been destroyed, so nowadays we can not fully appreciate all the splendor of the internal decoration of the cathedral.

Later, the temple continued to create new artistic creations, and in 1935 the restoration of the ancient Orthodox frescoes and mosaics began.

Today, one of the most valuable elements of the cathedral’s interior decoration are the ancient mosaics. They are divided by specialists into three periods:

  1. IX century (beginning);
  2. IX-X centuries;
  3. the end of the tenth century.

Hagia Sophia Cathedral

Icon of Virgin Mary in the Cathedral of St. Sophia

Especially valuable is considered to be the mosaic image of the Mother of God in robes of dark blue color, made on a golden background and located on the apse. The splendid color combination of gold and navy blue emphasizes the spirit of Byzantine grandeur.

Even by modern standards, the building of the temple has a fairly impressive size – 75×68 meters.

A distinctive feature of the cathedral of St. Sophia is its beautiful dome with a diameter of 31 meters, the dome height is equal to 55.6 meters. Looking at it, there is a feeling that he floats in the weightlessness and the sunlight as if comes from the cathedral.

In the center of the central dome, surrounded by 40 windows, there was once a fresco depicting Jesus Christ. But after Constantinople was conquered by the Turks, this image was painted over, and a surah from the Koran was applied over the renewed covering.

In the apse you can see the image of the face of Our Lady. She was considered the patroness of the temple and was associated with wisdom (Sofia).

Legends and interesting facts

The cathedral has some unusual places with mysteries. One of them is the weeping column, covered with copper, which, according to belief, is able to grant wishes. Also, if you lean on it with a sore spot, there will be a healing. Another mysterious place of the Cathedral is a cool window from which in any weather it is cold and a little noise is heard.

The symbol of the cathedral and a local celebrity is a cat named Gli, which you might have met during your visit to Hagia Sophia. This is one of Istanbul’s most famous cats, which you could get to know better through his Instagram profile @hagiasophiacat. Sadly, in November 2020, the cat died.

In the cathedral to this day there is the imprint of the hand of the sultan who conquered Constantinople. There is a legend that the sultan rode his horse into the cathedral, leaned his hand on the column, and there remained the imprint of his palm. The imprint turned out to be high because his horse was walking over a large number of corpses.

The main feature of the temple is that it combines elements of Orthodox and Islamic cultures (images of Christ, the Mother of God and excerpts from the Koran). Particular attention should be paid to the inscriptions on the stone parapets, which have a history of several centuries. The most ancient inscriptions are runes, left in the temple by Scandinavian warriors, the Vikings. By now they have been covered with a very tough transparent coating, which protects the historic treasure from abrasion.

Photos of St. Sophia Cathedral

Hagia Sophia Cathedral Chandeliers in Hagia Sophia Cathedral

Interior of Hagia Sophia A carpet of tulips near the cathedral Interior of Hagia Sophia Cathedral The entrance to Hagia Sophia Cathedral

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Hagia Sophia Cathedral’s underground puzzles

The Hagia Sophia Mosque is not only the well-known above-ground structure, but also the fantastically vast underground part, which is little explored and shrouded in many mysteries. Historical documents state that in order to lay the foundation of the cathedral workers had to dig a huge 70-meter deep foundation pit. Also some chroniclers claim that the underground part of Ayia Sophia is riddled with dozens of tunnels and hides several cisterns designed to collect and store fresh water. They were probably constructed in the image and likeness of the famous Basilica Cistern located near the cathedral.

Over the centuries, the dungeons of Hagia Sophia filled with water, and getting into them was very difficult. The first attempt was made by American researchers in 1945. It was decided to put powerful deep-well pumps and pump water out of the unexplored tunnels. The carefully developed plan failed miserably. The equipment worked at full capacity, but the water level in the underground remained at the same level. When the pumps failed and burned out, the Americans called off the failed operation.

Hagia Sophia Cathedral

Turkish explorers have been more successful. Instead of pumping out the water, they have organized several underwater expeditions with scuba tanks. The last dive of the specialists was made in 2013. Some of the information obtained from ancient chronicles was confirmed, and some of it turned out to be an exaggeration.

In particular, during the study, an area designed for burial was discovered. The well located near the main entrance to the cathedral was well examined at a depth of 12 meters. Fragments of a huge antique chandelier were extracted from the well. In the stone walls were found strong, tightly closed doors. Of course, it was impossible to open them. But it is believed that these doors allow access to the water cisterns. This theory is confirmed by data obtained from powerful scanners: the devices showed that under the floor of the well and behind the walls there are huge voids.

The dry stone tunnel, which is divided into two parts: the first part of the tunnel is the passage to Hippodrome Square, and the second part is the passage to the Topkapi palace complex, was also thoroughly examined. The underground corridors have branches. Some of them lead to the outside and some of them can lead to a dead end.

Hagia Sophia Cathedral: video

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Hagia Sophia Cathedral

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Due to the fact that Hagia Sophia’s status has been changed to a mosque since 10.07.20, the conditions for visiting it have also changed.

Visiting hours: available to visitors all the time except during prayers (namaz). To visit, as in any mosque, women need to cover their heads with a scarf.

Hagia Sophia Cathedral can be easily found while standing on Hippodrome Square (T1 Sultanahmet streetcar stop). You can enter the cathedral with a group tour or on your own.

If you prefer to walk around on your own, then our non-boring audio guide in Russian, which includes all the main historical monuments of Sultanahmet, is perfect for a sightseeing tour. This is not only a time-saver, unlike a tour with a group, but also a monetary benefit. Available for android and iOS.

You can also get to Hagia Sophia Cathedral on the T1 express streetcar line, which passes through Sultanahmet. The cathedral can be seen from afar by its dome.

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