Be informed ! Opening Hours: Daily 9am-7pm except Mondays. Your tour is not complete without seeing the upper floor.
Hagia Sophia is not to be missed out in any Istanbul tours. The site is an outstanding engineering achievement of Byzantine Empire. If there is one work that realizes the 'ideal' Byzantine model, it is the astonishing church of Hagia Sophia. It was built as the new Cathedral of Constantinople by the Emperor Justinian in the year 537 AD. He intended it as the keystone of his vast architectural campaign.
"The architectural form of Santa Sophia is concealed by the richness of decoration. The walls, from the ground up, are covered in identical manner. Plaques of red, yellow and green marble blend with the mosaics, and these are further embellished by the capitals, imposts, architraves and friezes."
— Mitchell Beazley. The World Atlas of Architecture. p180.
"Hagia Sophia was built in the amazingly short time of five years...The daring of the design, and perhaps the speed of the construction, made the structure unstable. Its first dome fell after an earthquake, and its replacement (in 563, with a higher profile than the original) had to be repaired after partial collapses in the ninth and fourteenth centuries."
— Marvin Trachtenberg and Isabelle Hyman. Architecture: from Prehistory to Post-Modernism. p171.
"The choice of plan was...decided and imposed by Justinian himself. Santa Sophia does not have the basilical plan generally adopted for large buildings, but is on the centralized pattern....
One of the latest discoveries in Hagia Sophia the angel faced mosaic.
In its heyday as the Imperial church, Hagia Sophia was served by:
25 cantors and
The church dimensions:
The base measures 260 x 270 feet;
The dome rises 210 feet above the floor and has a diameter of 110 feet.
The nave is 135 feet wide, more than twice the width of the aisles which measure 62 feet.
Hagia Sophia ( Holy Wisdom) is the mother church of all Eastern Christians of the Byzantine liturgical tradition both Orthodox and Greek Catholic. Early accounts suggest that the site of this, the grandest church in Christendom, in the first millennium had been the site
of a pagan temple. Three separate basilicas have been built here in different times and they were all called by the same name. Although no churches were built during the reign of Constantine the Great, some sources maintain that the first Hagia Sophia basilica was built by him. Actually, the first small basilica with a wooden roof was constructed in the second half of the 4th century by Constantinius, the son of Constantine the Great.
The first church on the site was built by the Eastern Roman Emperor Constantius, son of Emperor Constantine, who had liberated the Christian faith from centuries of persecution. Constantius' church was consecrated in 360 AD. At first it was known as the Great Church because it was the largest at the time. Later it became known as Holy Wisdom, a name attributed to Christ by theologians of the 4th century.
In 404 AD the church was destroyed by mobs set into action when Emperor Arcadius sent Archbishop John Chrysostom into exile for his criticism of the Empress.
In 415 AD Emperor Theodosius II rebuilt the church. It too fell victim to a rampaging mob in the time of Monophysite heretics in 532 AD. A bloody uprising broke out at a chariot race in the Hippodrome, ten thousands of the inhabitants of the city were killed and numerous buildings were destroyed. Hagia Sophia church was among the structures burnt. The slogan chanted at this revolt was "Nika" which was directed against Emperor Justinian.
The new Emperor Justinian, firm defender of orthodoxy, made short work of the howling heretics and ordered that construction begin on a new basilica such as had never been seen before. The structure was designed by the architects Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus. The construction work lasted from 532 to 537; the new church was consecrated by Patriarch Menas on December 27, 537.
During the consecration ceremony, Justinian could not suppress his excitement. He entered the church in a chariot, thanked God, and shouted that he had outdone King Solomon.
On May 7, 558, the dome of the church collapsed due to an earthquake in December 557, and though a new dome was quickly rebuilt, according to historical records the new dome was not identical to the original.
In 1204 AD, Roman Catholic crusaders of the Fourth Crusade attacked and sacked Constantinople and the Great Church. This left behind a legacy of bitterness among Eastern Christians which continues to this day. For more that 1000 years Holy Wisdom served as the cathedral church of the Patriarch of Constantinople as well as the church of the Byzantine court.
On May 29, 1453, when the Ottoman Turkish Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror seized the Imperial City and converted the Great Church into his mosque long lasting function of Hagia Sophia came to an end . It remained a mosque until 1935 when Turkish head-of-state Mustafa Kemal converted it into a museum. Years later the plaster which had been applied by the Muslims to cover the icons was removed, revealing Byzantine art for the first time to modern eyes.
Architecturally the grand basilica represented a major revolution in church design and construction in that it featured a huge dome which necessitated the implementation of new ideas in order to support the weight of this dome. A feat which had not been attempted before.
The dome which became universal in Byzantine church construction symbolised the vault of heaven. In the days when there was no steel used in construction, large roofs and domes had to be supported by massive pillars and walls. The dome of Hagia Sophia was supported by four piers, each measuring about 98.5 sqm at the base. Four arches swing across linked by four pendentives. The apices of the arches and the pendentives support the circular base from which rises the dome which is pierced by forty single-arched windows which admit light to the interior.
Despite its uniqueness and magnificence, the structure has some vital limitations. The most important problem was the enormous size of the dome and the pressure it exerted on the side walls. The architectural elements necessary for transmitting the weight of such a dome to the foundations were not fully developed at that time.
As Istanbul lies in an earthquake-sensitive region, the massive structure of the Great Church was deemed sufficient to meet the threat. That expectation however was disappointed when in later years earthquakes destroyed parts of the church and dome, requiring complete repairs including the construction of large buttresses to support the walls which in turn held up the dome.
Vast sums were spent in all ages for the upkeep of Hagia Sophia. The immediate restorations undertaken after the Turkish conquest in 1453 to convert it into a mosque saved this beautiful building. Among the major restorations at later times were the buttresses built by Turkish architect Sinan in the 16th century, the restoration by the Fossafi brothers in mid-19th century, and the repairs including the fortification of the dome with iron bands after 1930. Existing modern portable metal scaffolding will make future restoration work easier.
It was the model for other Byzantine churches throughout Eastern Christian world as seen for example in the Church of Holy Wisdom in Kyiv. In the Slavic East the style was modified to suit the Slavic esthetic sensibilities, most notable in Russia where the soaring but narrower domes top the many beautiful churches.