The Church of the Divine Wisdom (Hagia Sophia in Greek) in Sultanahmet, Istanbul, is one of the most impressive and important buildings ever constructed. Its wide, flat dome was a daring engineering feat in the 6th century, and architects still marvel at the building’s many innovations.
Called Hagia Sophia in Greek, Sancta Sophia in Latin, Ayasofya in Turkish, it was built in 537 AD on the site of Byzantium’s acropolis by Emperor Justinian (527-65 AD). Ayasofya was the greatest church in Christendom, and was meant to be. According to Prof. Robert Osterhout, it was built to surpass the gigantic Church of St Polyeuchtos erected by Julia Anitzia, scion of the line of Theodosian emperors.
Julia meant her church, a “recreation” of the Temple of Jerusalem, to symbolize her wealth, power and legitimate claim to the throne of Byzantium. Justinian had to out-build her to establish his own legitimacy—and he did. His church remained the largest church ever built until St Peter’s Basilica was constructed in Rome 1000 years later.
Being the world’s most impressive building, it’s no wonder that Mehmet the Conqueror proclaimed it a mosque soon after his conquest of the city from the Byzantines in 1453. It served as Istanbul’s most revered mosque until 1935 when Atatürk, recognizing its world-historical significance, had it proclaimed a museum, as it is now. Everyone wants to see Ayasofya—it is the most-visited site in Turkey.
Although most of the building is still a museum, a room on the east side was opened in 2007 as a prayer-place, and the call to prayer is proclaimed from the minaret above it. Ayasofya is awe-inspiring—one of the first things to see when you’re in Istanbul. Luckily, it’s right next to Topkapı Palace, the Blue Mosque and the Byzantine Hippodrome, and right across the street from Yerebatan Sarnıçı, the Basilica Cistern.
Be sure to climb to the mezzanine level to see the splendid Byzantine mosaics. The Hürrem Sultan Hamamı (Turkish bath of the Ayasofya mosque complex), on the southwest side of Ayasofya next to the park with the fountain, was designed by master architect Mimar Sinan and built for Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. It has been beautifull restored and is again in service as a hamam (Turkish bath).
In summer season, btw 15 April – 1 October, visiting hour is 09:00 – 19:00. Ticket sale finishes at 18:00.
In winter season, btw 1 October – 15 April, visiting hour is 09:00 – 17:00. Ticket sale finishes at 16:00.
Museum ticket is 30 TL. If you want to visit Hagia Sophia and other Istanbul Museums, we suggest you to buy an Istanbul Museum pass, which is 85 TL including the entrances of 5 different museums.