Hagia Sophia – The Essence of Istanbul

Hagia Sophia – The Essence of Istanbul

Aya Sofya, Hagia Sophia or, in English, the Church of the Divine Wisdom, is a mighty structure defining the heart and soul of Istanbul, melding the characteristics of a city that crosses time, continent and culture.  If you only have time to visit one sight in Istanbul this is it.

Hagia Sofia, Istanbul

Church, Mosque and Museum

Originally built by Byzantine Emperor Constantius I as a Greek Orthodox Church, Hagia Sophia had a hard life and survived an earthquake, fire and revolt over a period of 916 years before being converted to Aya Sofia Mosque in 1453.  Four minarets were added and the vast, domed building remained a mosque until 1935.  At this time Ataturk proclaimed that it should become a museum where symbols of both religions would be housed side by side to pacify both faiths.

Hagia Sophia Dome

Hagia Sofia Dome

Head upstairs, or rather up wooden ramps, for a spectacular view of the main atrium and nave from the balcony above the main entrance.  Bathed in diffused golden light the people gathered below gauge the scale of the building.  The central dome, reaches 55.6 m above the museum floor and is supported by four pendentives adorned with winged cherubs.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Hagia Sofia Mosaics

Ancient frescos and gilded mosaics of the Virgin Mary and Christ, restored after the mosque became a museum, are displayed under the magnificent dome alongside 19th century leather medallions gilded with the names of God (Allah) and Mohammed in Arabic lettering.  More mosaics, uncovered after the Hagia Sophia became a museum, line the upstairs gallery and give an idea of the grandeur of the original decoration inside the Church.

This is a majestic, beautiful building that inspires a sense of awe and one where I felt compelled to stay awhile, even after having seen all there was to see, just to soak up a sense of time and place and the essence of Istanbul.

The Blue Mosque and Basilica Cistern are close by but save the Hagia Sophia til last.

Today any form of worship (mosque or church) is strictly prohibited – as such there is no strict dress code.

 Where: Aya Sofya Meydanı 1 Sultanahmet

When: 9am-6pm Tue-Sun mid-Apr–Sep, to 4pm Oct–mid-Apr.

Cost:  Adults TL – under 12s free

Hagia Sofia, Istanbul

23 Comments

    • Shame about the scaffolding – you’ll have to go back! You’re right it’s such a lovely, vibrant city.

      Reply
  1. Gorgeous! I had similar impressions upon my visit to Hagia Sophia last fall. It really does encapsulate the characteristics and feelings of Istanbul perfectly.

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    • It’s one of those place where you just want to stay for hours. Glad you feel te same way :)

      Reply
  2. Hagia Sophia is a stunning building which you have captured wonderfully in these images. I have always wanted to go to Istanbul, but so far haven’t made it. This post is an encouragement to make it happen. Thanks!

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    • Thank you! I hope you get to visit soon – there’s so much to see and photograph and I’d go back in heartbeat.

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  3. Just beautiful Suzanne!

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    • Thank you Madhu – couldn’t go wrong really, it was there right in front of my eyes. Although it touched my soul too…

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  4. No need to go now, Suze. You’ve done it complete and utter justice :)

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    • Thanks Jo but I don’t know if I’ve captured the feeling of the place. Definitely some special about it :)

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  5. It is breathtaking and I think your pictures have managed to capture just that

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    • Thank you Dallas – there was something very special about this place; even if I’ve captured just a tiny piece of it I’ll be happy :)

      Reply
  6. What an amazing building and such a fascinating history. I’ve been longing to go to Istanbul (and other parts of Turkey) for a while now and everytime you write about it increases my longing, whether a balloon ride of Capadocia or a tree with eyes (the one you brought me back looks down over my front door) or this beautiful building!

    Reply
    • Thanks Kathryn – I was enchanted by Turkey; there are so many unique and interesting places to see, the food is excellent but above all the people are so lovely…

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  7. I would go back to Hagia Sophia in a heartbeat should I visit Istanbul again in the future. Some buildings are just magnificent, and Hagia Sophia is definitely one of them.

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    • So would I – this is a very special, spiritual place. Thanks for dropping by :)

      Reply
  8. Aya Sofya is my favorite building in the whole world. You are very right in making such a strong recommendation – an incredible place to visit!

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  9. Wow, stunningly beautiful both inside and outside … all the details, you have done a fantastic job with catching so many details. The lamps are so beautiful … and you have even manage to give the impression of who big it is. Massive, my favorite shot is the 3rd from the top .. where I can really feel the greatness of the dome.

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    • It’s an incredible structure Viveka and not just architecturally, it has a history and a definite presence about it too…

      Reply
  10. It looks absolutely extraordinary. It on my list of places I would love to see …

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    • There’s so much to see in Istanbul – we really rushed through it in two days. It’s got to be one of the most fascinating cities I’ve visited so I’d definitely put it high on the list…

      Reply
  11. Istanbul is totally impressive. Here are a few shots from the Hagia Sophia by night. Have you tried the hammam right next to it? What an experience…

    Reply

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