Originally I was going to highlight the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) with a single photo as I do occasionally from sites I’ve visited around the world. But I couldn’t resist showing off more from this former church, later mosque, now museum that turns 1,475 years old in 2012. The Hagia Sophia is easily one of a handful of my favorite pieces of architecture anywhere. And much like the Taj Mahal in India is a popular tourist destination that won’t disappoint you.
Age brings with it many things, including stories that can make you that fun old crazy person at family events down the line. You can imagine then when you turn 1,475, Hagia Sophia’s got quite a tale to tell – even if she doesn’t look a day over 1,000.
The Hagia Sophia was actually constructed in 3 phases (beginning in 360 A.D.) and the structure that you see today was completed in 537 A.D. It was originally a Greek church in what was then the new capital of the Roman Empire.
When the Ottoman army, under the command of Sultan Mehmet II, conquered Constantinople on May 29, 1453, the building was quickly converted into a mosque. That helped to serve three aims – to place the firm stamp of Islam upon the city without completely disenfranchising the majority Christian population of Istanbul at the time; while preserving the one of the world’s architectural wonders. (Plus lay claim to it, hey, Sultan’s prerogative.)
A view of the Hagia Sophia from its right side, a view you’ll most likely get from many of the hostel rooftops that are nearby in the Sultanahmet area. The building’s structure was reenforced and improved in the mid-1500s by the famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan. Like much of his other work, including the Suleymaniye Mosque, the Hagia Sophia was engineered to be earthquake resistant. Especially important in a city that sees, on average, one major quake every century and plenty of smaller earthquakes in between.
In 1935 Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk proclaimed the Hagia Sophia a museum, due to its historical, cultural, and spiritual significance for various peoples. Formal prayer is not permitted inside.
The Hagia Sophia occupies 7,400 square meters but perhaps the museum’s most famous feature is the 50 meter high dome above these people (and travel blogging photographer).
A view of the second floor – from the second floor.
The Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in the world for 983 years and today the museum is Istanbul’s second most visited site. (Topkapi Palace is first but honestly, if pressed for time go with Hagia Sophia.) You can visit all days of the week except Monday’s and the entrance fee is 25 Turkish lira (~$14). I recommend taking your time – at least 30 minutes – to wander around this building that has seen the passing of 3 intercontinental empires, a world war, and the birth of the world’s first secular and democratic Muslim-majority nation. Not bad for someone who looks so young.