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Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (Hagia Sophia) is a cultural, architectural and historical monument that carries the history of ancient Byzantium, the medieval Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey.

Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul was originally an Orthodox church in Constantinople, then it was rebuilt into a mosque, and today it is the Hagia Sophia Museum. It is a monument of Byzantine architecture, listed by UNESCO.

History of Aya Sofia

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  • Work schedule: daily from 9 am to 5 pm, off. Monday

The Cathedral of St. Sophia in Constantinople was built in the center of that ancient city, not far from the emperor’s palace. Today it is the Old City of Istanbul, where its main historical and cultural attractions are located.

St. Sophia’s Cathedral was considered the largest Christian church in the world for more than a millennium, until the equally world-famous St. Peter’s Catholic Cathedral in Rome was built.

The first church on the site of the future cathedral here appeared in the 4th century under the first Christian emperor Constantine, and the large cathedral was built under Consul Constantza, but it burned as a result of arson in the early 5th century.

A few years later, at the command of Emperor Theodosius, another large marble basilica was built, which was also soon burned during another rebellion of the urban poor.


Hagia Sophia - Ayia Sophia

In the middle of the 6th century Emperor Justinian gave orders to build a large basilica, which would testify to the greatness of the Byzantine Empire. So, thanks to the best architects of those times, the Cathedral of St. Sophia appeared on God’s earth.

The Cathedral of St. Sophia in Constantinople was built from the best and most expensive building materials at the time: unique and colorful marble was brought from all over the world, gold, silver and ivory were used for decoration.

The splendor of the temple of St. Sophia gave rise to legends and myths that during its construction the heavenly powers themselves took part. In fact, the construction was so gigantic that it “ate” as much as three entire annual budgets of Byzantium.

Even from the beginning of construction, the temple of St. Sophia in Constantinople received the title “Great” because of its scale. Precious stones were used in the manufacture of the altar. Expensive utensils were created for the services.


In the middle of the 5th century, a few years after construction was completed, there was a major earthquake and the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Constantinople suffered considerable damage. The same thing happened at the end of the 10th century – the dome collapsed.

In the middle of the 11th century, the Byzantine patriarch at Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia anathematized the papal vicars, further splitting the Church into western and eastern denominations that still exist today.

Ottoman Empire

In the mid-15th century, the last Orthodox service was held in the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Constantinople, attended by the last Byzantine emperor and his entourage. According to the recollections of contemporaries, the service was more like a liturgy.

Soon the ancient Constantinople was taken by the troops of the Ottoman Empire. The Turks immediately broke down the doors and ransacked the Church of Hagia Sophia, destroyed the holy icons, stole the precious vestments and sacred vessels, and killed the temple servants.

A few days later, by order of the Turkish Sultan, the Church of St. Sophia in Constantinople was converted into a mosque. Later four minarets, traditional in Islam, were added to it, and the cathedral became the Mosque of Hagia Sophia.

It has been extensively remodeled inside to conform to Muslim traditions. But the Orthodox frescoes and mosaics remained intact in the Hagia Sophia Mosque, because they were not changed. for several centuries have been plastered over.

In the middle of the 19th century there was a danger of collapse of some of the structures in Ayia Sofia in Istanbul, so the Turkish sultan invited two Italian architects who first restored the temple in two years.

And in the 1930s, the father of the Turkish nation, Ataturk, by his decree, turned Hagia Sophia into a museum. Already at the beginning of the 21st century, a small room was equipped in the museum building for Muslim worship by its workers.

Return of status

Campaigns are periodically organized in Turkey to return the modern Hagia Sophia Museum to its original status as the Christian Hagia Sophia. There have even been hearings on this issue in the U.S. Congress.

Many Christians are outraged by the fact that today Oriental bazaars and festivals are held within the walls of this temple, thus showing disrespect for Orthodoxy. However, the Turkish leadership considers this to be a normal state of affairs.

The architecture of Ayia Sofia

Hagia Sophia - Ayia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia or Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul is built in the form of a basilica, which is crowned by a huge dome. This structure was an architectural masterpiece of its time. Its walls are very strong, according to experts, thanks to the ash leaves in the mortar.

The interior decor of the Church of St. Sophia is characterized by extraordinary luxury. Here you can see the elegant mosaics and ornaments made on the gold floor and walls, columns of jasper, brought from the ancient Greek temple, etc.

The Cathedral of St. Sophia was intended to demonstrate the power, strength, and eternity of Byzantium and the Orthodox faith. The scale of the temple, the extraordinary luxury of its decorations, and the splendor and splendor of the church ceremonies are direct evidence of this.

Hagia Sophia - Ayia Sophia

In the 1930s, the old plaster was finally removed from the ancient frescoes in the Ayia Sophia Cathedral, and the images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, Christian saints and ascetics appeared before the viewers.


Hagia Sophia - Ayia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul is an example of the monumental art of the Byzantine Empire. This is perfectly visible to specialists and art historians. All the mosaics are divided into three periods of Byzantine history.

The first mosaics in St. Sophia Cathedral were created at the end of the 9th century after the end of the period of iconoclasm in the Christian Church. The mosaics are very similar in style to the paintings of those times.

Visitors to Sophia Cathedral can see the throne image of the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus on her lap, the Archangel Gabriel, the prophet Ezekiel, the Emperor Constantine, the apostles, prophets, saints, patriarchs, etc.

In the first half of the 10th century, mosaics depicting Jesus Christ with the Gospel in his hands, before which the Emperor Leo worships, appeared in the Cathedral of St. Sophia. The portrait of Emperor Alexander in mosaic technique belongs to the same period.

Hagia Sophia - Ayia Sophia

There are also mosaic paintings, dating from the second half of the 10th century, depicting the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus on her knees, the emperors Constantine and Justinian. The latter gives the Virgin this cathedral.

Islamic and other elements in architecture and decor

After the conversion of the Orthodox cathedral into the Hagia Sophia mosque, the rebuilding and remodeling began here. The minarets were erected at different times and by different masters. The modern mihbar was built only in the 19th century.

Also in the Ayia Sophia were discovered ancient runes, of Scandinavian origin. Apparently, the inscriptions were made here in the Middle Ages by Vikings who served in the Byzantine armies. There are several such runes, and they were discovered in the last century.

Excursions to Hagia Sophia Cathedral

Excursions to Hagia Sophia - Ayia Sofia

There are many excursions to the Ayia Sophia accompanied by professional guides who have art history and historical knowledge. It can be a sightseeing walk, a tour of Christian and Ottoman heritage, etc.

Excursions are conducted in Russian, English and Turkish. If you wish, you can see the temple on your own, without the help of a guide, having previously read about its history and cultural significance.

Tickets for the tour can be purchased offline at the museum ticket office or online at the museum website.

The cost to see the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is 30 Turkish Liras, which at today’s exchange rate is 7.62 USD.

Useful Information

Museum of Ayia Sofia works in summer from 09-00 to 19-00, and in winter – from 09-00 to 17-00, the output – Monday. To avoid waiting in line at the ticket office, it is best to go to St. Sophia early in the morning by 09-00.

The public transport stop next to where the Hagia Sophia Museum is located is called Sultanahmet. You can get here by high-speed streetcar, city bus or simply by ordering a cab.

Try not to come to the museum in too open and revealing clothing. You risk offending the religious feelings not only of Muslims, but also of Orthodox believers. The significance of this temple for both religions is too great.

Video overview of Hagia Sophia Cathedral

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