Hagia Sophia in Istanbul used to be a Christian orthodox cathedral, then a mosque, and now a museum. It is considered one of Turkey’s true treasures and it has played an important role throughout various time periods.
The historic landmark has stood at this place for more than 1500 years on the banks of the Bosporus Strait and, although it’s been rebuilt on the same plot of land three times, it still stands strong today and is open to the public as a museum.
Here’s a complete guide for visitors with information about opening hours, tickets, history and interesting facts about Hagia Sophia.
Hagia Sophia tickets
|Hagia Sophia Museum||$16|
Your Hagia Sophia Musem ticket grants you access to the building and it’s two levels. If you would prefer to explore with a local guide, you’ll find plenty of qualified guides waiting in the building’s entrance courtyard.
If you plan to visit multiple attractions in Istanbul, it might be worth considering purchasing an attraction multi-pass to save money, or booking a guide to take you around each attraction.
Hagia Sophia is open at the following times throughout the year (note the museum is closed on Mondays):
- Summer period: 1st April – 31st October: 9am – 7pm
- Winter period: 31st October – 1st April: 9am – 6pm
History & more information
Before becoming an Ottoman imperial mosque, the Hagia Sophia was a Greek Orthodox Christian Cathedral that was first built in AD 537 in the middle ages. The building has been a landmark for both Orthodox Christians and Muslims for centuries and its existence has massively shaped the city’s history of the years.
Innovative architecture, extraordinary characteristics (including monolithic marble columns and unparalleled mosaics), and engineering genius all make the Hagia Sophia one of history’s most spectacular buildings, which has inspired architects for centuries from all over the world.
It was the Byzantine Emperor Constantius who first commissioned the construction of Hagia Sophia in 360AD when Istanbul was known as Constantinople.
The original building featured a wooden roof that burned to the ground during the riots of 404AD and had to be rebuilt in 415. One century later, the new structure burned to the ground again and this time the damage was unrepairable.
In 532 the Hagia Sophia was demolished under the rule of Emperor Justinian. The third and final Hagia Sophia, the one we see today, was completed in 537 and features traditional design elements of an Orthodox basilica.
Today, it operates as a museum (and has done since 1935) and attracts more than three million visitors each year. However, the question of whether the building will ever open again as a mosque is still not set into stone.
Points of Interest
The Emperor Door
The first thing you’ll see when entering the building is the Emperor Door, a striking door and the largest in the structure. The oak panels and bronze frames that make up the door date right back to the 2nd century.
Virgin Mary Mosaics
Make sure you take a look at the Virgin Mary mosaics that sit above the main exit doorway. The mosaics date back to the 11th-century and depict the Virgin Mary and the Byzantine Emperors.
There are over 107 columns inside Hagia Sophia and each has been intricately decorated and made from materials gathered from across the empire.
Inside the Hagia Sophia, you’ll find the tombs of five sultans. They’re located just outside the main exit next to the original baptistry
The Weeping Column is said to have been blessed by St. Gregory the Miracle Worker and is one of the most famous components of Hagia Sophia.
The Grand Dome
The Grand Dome is perhaps Hagia Sophia’s most spectacular feature as it can be admired from inside and out. The dome is supported by four pendentives each of which has been intricately decorated.
The dome, and a number of other structures, features Islamic scripture which dates back to the Ottoman period and has been left untouched.
How to get to Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia sits in the European part of Istanbul in the Sultanahmet (Old Town) area close to Topkapi Palace. The building is easily accessible on foot from the Old Town and can be spotted fairly easily. If you’re coming directly from the airport take a taxi to your hotel (the drive into the city center takes roughly 1-hour in moderate traffic) and then walk or take a bus to the Sultanahmet area.
If you’ve got some free time in Istanbul before or after visiting the Hagia Sophia then you’re in luck as this culture-filled city is bursting with historical sights, religious monuments, and is home to a number of impressive museums. Below is a list of some of Istanbul’s top attractions:
- The Blue Mosque
- Topkapi Palace Museum
- Grand Bazaar
- Basilica Cistern
- Dolmabahce Palace
- Galata Tower
- Taksim Square
Best time to visit
The best time to visit Hagia Sophia is right before closing time in the evening or in the early morning at opening. Most of the tourists are coming in tour groups from 11:00 to 14:00. Remember that the museum is closed on Mondays.
Facts about Hagia Sophia
- The church has gone by many names including the Great Church because of its large size. It was named Hagia Sophia (which is Greek for “Holy Wisdom”) around 430 CE.
- The church has been destroyed twice by riots. The first time was in 404CE and the second was in 532CE during the Nika Revolt.
- Five years after the Nika Revolt and the church’s destruction, Emperor Justinian inaugurated the newly rebuilt Hagia Sophia, the most important religious structure in his empire, on December 27, 537 CE.
- The cathedral’s original dome had to be replaced in 558CE after an earthquake destroyed the grand feature. The dome was rebuilt to a height of 182 feet.
- Columns from the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus (one of the ancient seven wonders) are used to support the interior of the church.
- It was converted into a museum in 1935 by the first President of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
- The Blue Mosque and Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul were designed with an inspiration of Hagia Sophia.
- The original cathedral was dedicated to Logos who was the second person in the Holy Trinity, on December 25th.
- The cathedral is a fantastic example of Byzantine and Roman architecture.
- The Altar, the bells, sacrificial vessels, and iconostasis were all removed when the church was converted into a mosque.
FAQ’s (Things to know before you go)
Is there a dress code to enter Hagia Sophia?
There is no particular dress code at Hagia Sophia. However, if you also plan to visit the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (the Blue Mosque) which is located just across the street, you may want to dress a little more conservatively.
How much time should I allow to visit Hagia Sophia?
Plan for at least 1-2 hours to make the most out of your visit.
Can I take photos inside Hagia Sophia?
Yes, pictures can be taken inside the museum. Please turn off your flash when you’re on the upper level. Tripods are not permitted.
Do you have more questions before visiting Hagia Sophia in Istanbul? Leave a comment below!