One of Istanbul’s most distinctive buildings and a testament to the changing face of this incredible city, Hagia Sophia is well worth seeing when visiting Istanbul on a tour of Turkey. Read on to find out more!
The Hagia Sophia was built in 537 as an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral, though it wasn’t the first structure on the site. It became a Roman Catholic Church for a short time in the 1200’s, but remained a church until 1453 when it became a mosque. Sucularized and re-opened as a museum in the 1930s, the Hagia Sophia is one of Istanbul’s most precious buildings.
Famous for its enormous dome, the Hagia Sophia is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture, and was the largest cathedral on the planet for over a thousand years! It was reportedly built in less than 6 years – and considering it took nearly a century to build Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral, that’s pretty darn quick! Having completed the cathedral – including the massive arch – Emperor Justinian reportedly said ‘Solomon, I have outdone thee’, in reference to the fabled biblical ruler, King Solomon.
Conversion to a Mosque
When Istanbul fell to the armies of the Ottomans in 1453, the Byzantine Empire had already been in decline for centuries, and the Hagia Sophia was in quite a state of disrepair. The Ottomans added minarets outside, and altered the interior too, painting over many of the mosaics and adding monograms of the four caliphs.
Istanbul is filled with attractions both ancient and modern. See the Blue Mosque, go shopping at the immense Grand Bazaar, go on a cruise up the Bosphorus, eat delicious Turkish cuisine, visit a hamam or check out the many modern art galleries the city has to offer. With influences from the Greeks, Romans, Persians and Venetians prior to the Ottomans who endowed the city in their own way – adding imperial mosques and other amazing structures to create one of the world’s most distinctive skylines.
Having been a huge part of the cultural fabric of Istanbul in both ancient and modern times, the Hagia Sophia is a definite must-see on any tour of Turkey. It gives a glimpse into ancient times and forgotten cultures, and is an enduring symbol of how times have changed in Istanbul. Restoration work and repair continues to this day, and it’s a magnificent building to visit.
Have you been to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul? Tell us about it in the comments section below!