Hagia Sophia Istanbul

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The dazzling Hagia Sophia is an important monument, preserved from the first century to the present day. Its construction was completed in 532-537 by order of the Byzantine emperor Justinian.
According to the design of the mathematician and physicist Antemias of Trallo and architect Isidore of Miletus, 10 thousand workers and 100 craftsmen were employed at the construction of the church.
In all, St. Sophia was rebuilt three times because of the damage it sustained after a fire and riot. The third, the present one, was built by order of Justinian.
Considered one of the most important architectural structures in the world, Hagia Sophia was accepted as the center of the Greek Orthodox patriarchate until the conquest of Istanbul by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453.
It was the largest church in the world for about 1,000 years.
Justinian is even known to have boasted, “I have built a church bigger than the one in Jerusalem.”
After the conquest, Fatih’s first task was to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque. In 1935 it was turned into a museum by Ataturk’s order. On July 24, 2020, it was reopened for worship as a mosque.

What is the meaning of the name Hagia Sophia?

Hagia Sophia is spelled as a combination of the words “Aya” and “Sophia. While the word “Aya” means “holy, holy,” the word “Sophia” in ancient Greek means “wisdom. The word “Sophia” comes from the word “sophos” in ancient Greek.

Hagia Sophia – Holy Wisdom.

Therefore, the name Hagia Sophia means “Holy Wisdom” or “Divine Wisdom. In addition, Hagia Sophia is considered one of the 3 attributes of God in Orthodoxy. The origin of the word “Hagia Sophia” is Greek. It was first built as a cathedral by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. Later, after the conquest of Istanbul, it was turned into a mosque. The Hagia Sophia, which was turned into a museum in 1935, has now been converted back into a mosque.

Hagia Sophia Istanbul
Hagia Sophia Mosque


The Hagia Sophia was built when Justinian wanted a more spectacular building after his previous church was destroyed during the revolt. It is a work that still retains its splendor with its giant dome, eye-catching mosaics, and fine workmanship.
One of the four minarets of Hagia Sophia was built during the reign of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. The others were added gradually and were all built by Mimar Sinan. In 1317, believing that the building would collapse, giant buttresses were added and the building was supported.

The architecture of Hagia Sophia

In the garden of St. Sophia is a one-room elementary school and a Baroque fountain built in 1740. The right side, where the tombs of many rulers, their wives and children are located, was used as a baptistery when the building was a church.
As for whose tombs are here: Sultan Mustafa I, Sultan Ibrahim the Insane, the 5 sons of Sultan Selim II who were killed to avoid competition with Murad III, Murad III, Murad’s wife Safiye and 23 sons, Mehmet III and his wife Handan.
The Muwakkitane, right next to the mausoleums and eye-catching with its elegant counter, is a building added to the Hagia Sophia by the Fossati brothers in the nineteenth century. The Fossati brothers were Swiss architects who built more than 50 buildings in our country during the Tanzimat period.
When you enter Hagia Sophia, its impressive atmosphere attracts everyone. It has an entrance with a double narthex, one simple and the other decorated with marble walls and mosaics.
The mosaics in this narthex date from the period of Justinian and owe their dazzling brilliance to the gold used to make them.

Nine huge doors lead from the inner vestibule into the main hall. The most important of these doors is the Imperial Door in the center. Because it depicts Jesus sitting on a throne and the emperor, presumably Leo VI, bowing before him. Leo was an emperor who had three wives, but because he had no male children, he married a fourth time despite the objections of the church. This image symbolizes his plea for the forgiveness of his sins.
During the Ottoman period, the structure was made even more solid by the retaining walls added by Mimar Sinan, and thanks to these two architects it has survived to this day.

The Dome

Hagia Sophia is best known for its monumental dome. There is a central dome and two half-domes, which together carry a massive structure. At the same time, the central dome is supported by four arches on four columns. In the center of the dome is a verse from the Koran: “Allah is the light of the world.
Standing under the impressive dome, you can admire the marvelous interior lit by the golden light of countless chandeliers. Immerse yourself in the mystical atmosphere of this masterpiece, which undoubtedly hides many stories and details.
It is known that the old dome was not so large. This, however, made St. Sophia unstable to earthquakes, and in 558 it fell into disrepair. Then a nephew of Isidorius of Miletus with the same name recalculated everything and built this gigantic dome.

Cathedral mosaic

On the half-dome is a mosaic depicting the Virgin Mary seated on a throne with the infant Jesus in her arms. It is known that this mosaic is the first image placed in the church after the iconographic period.
Inside the majestic building, the attention of all visitors is drawn to the richly decorated mosaics, whose gold has not yet faded. At the entrance to the building is an impressive mosaic panel depicting the Virgin Mary and the two Byzantine emperors Constantine and Justinian next to her. If you look closely, you can see Constantine holding a model of Constantinople and Justinian holding a model of Hagia Sophia.
Another wonderful mosaic panel is above the exit door at the end of the corridor. It depicts Emperor Leo VI kneeling before Jesus with the Virgin Mary and the archangel.
The most striking mosaics, however, can be found in the main hall. In the apses one can see a mosaic of the Virgin Mary and Jesus from the 19th century, the oldest mosaic in the building, as well as a mosaic depicting the Archangel Gabriel.
In the upper galleries there are also impressive mosaics, especially the mosaic panel depicting two pairs of emperors.

Calligraphy medallions

Another element that immediately catches the visitor’s attention is the calligraphic medallions mounted high above. There are eight such huge black panels with the golden names of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, the four caliphs, and Muhammad’s two grandsons. In fact, the calligraphic medallions were among the first additions after the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and later turned the Hagia Sophia Church into a mosque.

Sultan Mahmud I Library

On the right side of the Hagia Sophia is the library of Sultan Mahmoud I. The room, decorated with Iznik tiles and a Baroque lattice, is quite impressive. Although the books have been moved to another library, you can still see the signature of Sultan Mahmud I, who ordered this addition, and a calligraphic quotation from the Koran.


The ornate altar from 1840, with a prayer niche facing Mecca, is worth seeing. You can find it in the apse. It is framed by gold ornaments and calligraphic panels with verses from the Koran, as well as two giant candelabras.
Next to the mihrab is the Tekke of the Muezzins, a rectangular marble tekke that serves as the muezzins’ call to prayer.

Upper galleries

A long stone ramp leads visitors to the upper galleries, where you can admire the beauty of the main hall from a different angle.
The points of interest are also listed below:

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