Hagia Sophia museum (mosque): history, legends, opening hours
Hagia Sophia (Turkish Aya Sofya) a.k.a Church of Holy Wisdom is a cathedral built in the 6th century in Constantinople by Justinian I. This shrine is considered one of the most significant structures preserved from the time of Byzantine Empire.
You can find great Hagia Sophia museum in the center of Old Town — near the Hippodrome Square (today — Sultanahmet). Here it’s stands through the centures watching historical events go by.
So let’s make a tour and find out some interesting facts and legends about this enormous architectural marvel.
Today, Hagia Sophia became a mosque — Ayasofya-ı Kebir Camii.
History of Hagia Sophia
History of the church creation
To build this unique cathedral, the Byzantine ruler Justinian hired two great architects of that time: Isidore of Miletus and Anthimius of Thrall. They were assisted by another hundred architects, each of whom led 100 masons. In total, 10,000 workers were involved in the construction of cathedral (5,000 people on each side). Justinian personally supervised the progress of construction and paid salaries to workers daily.
Building lasted 5 years. Result was the largest structure that existed as a Christian church for about a thousand years. Later, crusaders invaded Constantinople and took part of relics stored in cathedral (at the moment they are in Venetian St Mark`s Basilica).
Hagia Sophia being a mosque
In 1453, Constantinople was recaptured by Ottoman army, led by Mehmed the Conqueror. Soon, church was converted into a mosque with a wooden minaret.
After a while, mosque was supplemented with new minarets, placing them in the corners of building. Last two minarets were built in the 16th century by eminent architect Sinan.
Since then, mosque has become one of the world’s Islamic shrines, and later Hagia Sophia was proclaimed the main mosque of Istanbul. In its image, many famous mosques were built.
Hagia Sophia today as a museum and mosque
In 1935, on the initiative of Ministerial Council and M.K. Ataturk, it was decided to open a museum in the cathedral. About 10,000 people visit it daily. And in 2013, a record for attendance was set: the museum was visited by more than three million tourists.
Of particular value are the mosaic paintings of cathedral, which give a general idea of the events of those times. Since 1985, Hagia Sophia has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Since july 2020 Hagia Sophia became a mosque, and it means that today, the entrance to Aya Sofya is free.
Construction of cathedral dome became the cause of a real revolution in the architecture`s history (its parameters are almost 55 meters high and 35 meters wide). On four sides of dome are minarets that have been preserved since the Ottoman Empire.
Much of the Christian mosaic placed in upper galleria: during the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires, only women lived in this part of cathedral.
The architect, who built two minarets in the cathedral, was so impressed with the size of Hagia Sophia that he tried to build something more grandiose all his life. And he succeeded! He built a stunning mosque in Edirne, the dome of which is slightly larger than that of the cathedral.
Hagia Sophia highlights
Amazing mosaic paintings, for example, a 13th-century mosaic depicting Christ, the Saint Mary and John the Baptist.
The meeting of two religions in one sanctuary: in the cathedral you can watch how one religion (Muslim) tried to surpass the other (Christian). Ancient mosaics on the Christian theme and Islamic inscriptions are preserved on the walls.
A Crying Column, which is endowed with miraculous properties: a marble column inexplicably releases moisture and is able to fulfill wishes. Even Justinian experienced this healing power when he leaned against the column with a sore head and the pain passed. You too can wish what you want. To do this, insert your thumb into a special hole and, turning your palm 360 degrees, whisper a wish.
Handprint of the Sultan who conquered Constantinople. There is a legend that the Sultan rode into cathedral on a horse, and when he leaned his hand on the column, there remained an imprint of his palm. The imprint was high, because his horse was walking on a mountain of corpses.
The famous cat of Hagia Sophia
The cat named Gli, who has been living in the cathedral for several years, is considered the talisman and the most popular pet in Istanbul. Unfortunetly, the cat died last year.
The striped, fluffy animal even had its own page in Instagram, where people admired its beauty against the background of the interior decoration of the cathedral. You could follow celebrity cat Gli on @hagiasophiacat Instagram profile.
Rumor has it that the cat was presented to the museum by a certain high-ranking official. Such a gift was made in memory of Mohammed’s beloved cat, with whom he did not part even during prayer.
How to get to Hagia Sophia, opening hours and entrance fee in 2023
As Hagia Sophia became a mosque in 2022, the entrance to it is free.
Hagia Sophia can also be reached by T1 tram line that runs through Sultanahmet. You can see the cathedral dome from afar.