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July 25, 2012

Turkey: Istanbul, Hagia Sophia

Looking up at Hagia Sophia’s ceiling

Named Hagia Sophia in Greek, Sancta Sophia in Latin, the Church of the Divine Wisdom in English, and Ayasofya in Turkish, Istanbul’s most famous monument has a long and diverse history. The structure standing today in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district was built in the 6th Century during the rule of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I.  It was the third church built at the location, the site of Byzantium’s acropolis.

“Modern” Hagia Sophia was consecrated in 537 as a Christian basilica.  In 1453 when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque.  It remained as a mosque until 1931 when the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, secularized it.  In 1935 Hagia Sophia was designated as a museum and in 1985 it was included as part of the “Historic Areas of Istanbul” UNESCO World Heritage listing .

From the outside the Hagia Sophia is impressively massive in a blocky utilitarian way.  (In the 6th Century, Byzantine architecture was far from its peak.)  Hagia Sophia was for a 1,000 years the largest cathedral in the world.

Inside Hagia Sophia (HDR)

The inside has more impact and more refinement than the outside.  Stepping through the thick walls into Hagia Sophia’s interior reveals a dramatic space.   A cascade of domes and half domes span the cavernous interior.  The top of the highest dome is 182 ft above the floor.  Marble covered walls, pillars, and arched windows support the ornate roof.  Included within are eight Corinthian columns that were disassembled from Baalbek, Lebanon, and shipped to Constantinople for Justinian’s construction project.

Hagia Sophia’s history is told in its decorations.  Christian mosaics, covered during Hagia Sophia’s time as a mosque, were revealed during modern renovations.  These mosaics can now be seen amongst the stylized patterns and Arabic script of the Ottoman era.  The combination of Hagia Sophia’s religious decorations and its architectural grandeur make the interior a spectacle.

Entering Hagia Sophia is an awe-inspiring step inside an ancient jewel box.  Indeed, pictures of the interior, as impressive as they might be, don’t do the building justice.  This is a place that has to be seen in person to be fully appreciated.

Find out more from Lonely Planet.


  1. I’ve always wanted to go here (and Turkey 🙂 ).

    Comment by mackenzieperkins — July 25, 2012 @ 11:41 pm

  2. Dramatic photos. Interesting that some Christian iconography remains.

    Comment by dougstinson — July 26, 2012 @ 12:20 am

  3. […] is easy to see; the Sultan Ahmed Mosque sits near the magnificent 6th Century Byzantine basilica, Hagia Sophia.  The Hagia Sophia, converted to a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, served as […]

    Pingback by Turkey: The Blue Mosque « Another Header — July 26, 2012 @ 4:33 pm

  4. Glory! Your photos are amazing! I’ve been here several times, but I can’t say I’ve seen it as you have. Thanks!

    Comment by thenicethingaboutstrangers — July 26, 2012 @ 5:01 pm

  5. […] Turkey: Istanbul, Hagia Sophia ( Share this:Share on TumblrLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. […]

    Pingback by Archaeological Travel Blog: Istanbul Part 2 « GraecoMuse — July 26, 2012 @ 7:46 pm

  6. Reblogged this on turkischland and commented:
    aya sofia

    Comment by turkischland — July 28, 2012 @ 2:24 pm

  7. beautiful!!

    Comment by Poems by Samima — July 29, 2012 @ 9:14 am

  8. […] of Istanbul Turkey.  It is located not far from many of the Istanbul’s five star sites like the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.   Built in the 6th century during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor […]

    Pingback by Turkey: Istanbul, Basilica Cistern « Another Header — July 29, 2012 @ 7:16 pm

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