One of Istanbul’s most visited and unmissable attractions is the Hagia Sophia (ayasofya), meaning “Shrine of The Holy of God.”
This magnificent religious building and museum is located in the old town of Istanbul and is often described as the essence of Byzantine architecture.
At more than 1400 years old, the Hagia Sophia has delighted worshippers and visitors for hundreds of years.
But it wasn’t until 1985 that it was declared a UNESCO world heritage site, providing it with needed renovation and conservation protection.
History of Hagia Sophia
Since being commissioned by the Romans and opening in 360 A.D., the building known today as Hagia Sophia has been a Christian church, a mosque and a museum.
As an Eastern Orthodox Christian building, it was destroyed twice due to riots but was rebuilt during the 6th century.
After centuries of Christian worshipping, it became a mosque in 1453, when Istanbul was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. During that time, its Christian elements were covered or replaced with Islamic features and offerings.
Shortly after the city of Constantinople was renamed Istanbul, in the 1930s, the mosque was transformed into a museum. The plasterboards and carpets were all removed to display fine marble floors and mosaics.
The museum doors officially opened in 1935 and have since received hundreds of millions of guests.
Unmissable Features of the Hagia Sophia
As well as enjoying the architecture of Hagia Sophia from the outside, there is plenty to see inside. For example:
Mosaics: While many were removed or destroyed in the 1894 earthquake, there are still plenty of mosaics to enjoy, like the Imperial Door Mosaic, the Apse Mosaic of the Virgin Mary and Emperor Alexander.
The Dome: This brick-and-mortar feature is probably what comes to mind when you say Hagia Sophia. It is located in the middle of the church and spans an impressive 31.24-metres diameter.
Mahmut I’s Library: The library, decorated in marble and tile, was installed during Mahmut I’s reign (1730-1754) and a kitchen to serve the poor and a school for local children.
Marble Door: Originally used to access the meeting chamber, these impressive and detailed doors make a great photo.
Loge of Empress: For a great view of the transept, visit the Loge of Empress, where the emperors overlook rituals and services.
Tombs: Many tombs have been discovered in and around Hagia Sophia; they include sultans and princes.
The 5 Hagia Sophia tombs were discovered during a renovation and housed the Ottoman Sultans and their family members. When they were found, many traditions related to death were confirmed; for example, wives were buried with their husbands, and the same colours were used to cover the tombs.
Hagia Sophia Information
How to get there: You can take the Metro and Tram to Hagia Sophie. The closest station and where you need to get off is Sultanahmet Station. From there, the Hagia Sophia is clearly signposted and is within walking distance.
Price: It costs €15 to enter the Hagia Sophia, with priority entry and an audio tour. If you want to know about the architecture, mosaics and monuments and hear exciting stories, this package is for you.
However, if you adore visiting museums, you may prefer the Museum Pass, which allows you to see more than 12 museums in Istanbul over 5 consecutive days for €35. It includes discounts for museums, shops and eateries.
Whichever ticket you purchase, be sure to do it in advance to avoid additional queuing. AS the most popular attraction in Istanbul, it gets hectic. Plan to arrive early in the morning or towards the end of the day as this is when crowds are at their lowest.
Opening Times: The Hagia Sophia is open Tuesday to Sunday. So, don’t plan on visiting on a Monday. Opening times from 15th April to 1st October are 9 am to 7 pm. However, from 1st October and 15th April, it is open from 9 am until 5 pm. The final entry is always one hour before closing.
Also, it is important to note that it is closed during the first days of Ramadan and Eid Ul Adha. If you want to learn more about Ramadan, check out our popular post: Ramadan Etiquette: Make Your Turkish Friends Smile!
Where to Stay When Visiting Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
For a comfortable and memorable stay, book yourself into the 5-star Limak Eurasia Luxury Hotel. Facilities include a swimming pool, a wellness spa and a fitness centre.
A convenient airport transfer service is also available upon request. With 197 rooms available, your family is sure to find something that supports your idea of a dream holiday.
The Limak Eurasia Luxury Hotel is also splendidly located for accessing entertainment and shopping facilities and well-known attractions.
Extra Interest in Hagia Sophia?
If you fall in love with the history of this dreamy place or want to get super excited before visiting, we suggest watching “Beneath the Hagia Sophia,” a documentary that explores the legends of Hagia Sophia and makes them a reality.
One thrilling revelation was the tunnels of Hagia Sophia. Dan Brown described the documentary as “Extraordinary”.