The Hagia Sophia (or “Hagia Sofia” meaning “divine wisdom” in Greek) is Istanbul‘s flagship monument and a faithful representation of Byzantine architecture. It was built by Emperor Justinian in 532, after 5 years and 10 months of construction and 10,000 artists having put their hands together.
The Hagia Sophia – its history and evolution
Inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, the Basilica was a sacred place for the ceremonies of the Empire, the coronation of rulers for 916 years. For 482 years, it will serve as a mosque and then today, that is to say for 80 years, it is open to the public as a museum. At first, the Prophet Muhammad expressed his desire to seize the Basilica, which was a high place for Christians, in order to transform it into a place of Muslim worship. Thing done by Sultan Mehmet II during the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 by the Turks.
When Mehmet II seized the city of Constantinople, the inhabitants took refuge in the Hagia Sophia, awaiting their death. However, Mehmet II demanded to enter the religious building unaccompanied. He announced to Christians that they could continue to practice their religion. So today the center of the Orthodox world in Istanbul is in Fener, Balat.
The Hagia Sophia – its frescoes and mosaics
Mehmet II made a decision that surprised many: he decided to spare the Basilica’s 16,000 m2 of frescoes and mosaics by covering them with plaster and wood. The Sultan was an art lover and respectful of other religions and individual freedoms, although Islam prohibited the depiction of human faces. The well-preserved biblical scenes were put back on the agenda in 1934 by the President and founder of the Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who transformed the mosque into a museum.
Today, inside the Basilica, Christian frescoes and Islamic symbols are juxtaposed.
An architectural Feat
The old church is adorned with a dome about 60m high and 30 meters in diameter, in the center of a square, suspended by four pendants. It was quite incredible at the time to have a dome of this size stand at such a height. To do this, the architects used a hundred domes from different Roman temples dating back 4 centuries before the construction of the Hagia Sophia! They could measure up to 20 meters high, the equivalent of 7-story buildings.
This technical and architectural feat leaves no one indifferent. People from all over the world come to Istanbul for the chance to admire it. The 7540 m2 monument was for 1000 years the largest church in the world. Today, it is dethroned by the Church of Saint Peter in Rome (1626, completed after 110 years), the Cathedral of Seville (1507, completed after 105 years) and the Duomo of Milan (1965, built in 600 years), moving it back to 4th position. However, the Hagia Sophia is by far the one that was built the fastest!
The museum is located in the old city of Sultan Ahmet, opposite the Blue Mosque and next to the Basilica Cistern.
Summer: April 15 – October 01 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Winter: October 1 – April 15 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Open daily, except Friday mornings until 3 p.m.
Entrance ticket: entry is free since its transformation into a mosque.
Enjoy your visit to this timeless wonder!