Hagia Sophia was built 1500 years ago by the Byzantine emperor Justinian. Built with techniques far ahead of its time, it remained the largest church in the world for a thousand years.
Hagia Sophia, used as a church from the 6th to 15th centuries, is the city’s holiest building. Emperors were crowned here during the Eastern Roman (aka Byzantine) period.
After the Ottomans captured Constantinople in 1453, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. Ayasofya (locally known by this name) was also a special place of worship during the Ottoman era. It was well preserved during this period.
During the Republic, Ayasofya remained a museum for around 90 years. However, in 2020, the building was converted back into a mosque. Hagia Sophia is still one of the most visited historical places in Istanbul.
Insider Tips About Hagia Sophia
As a local guide, I would like to give you useful tips during your visit to Hagia Sophia. In this article, you can find answers to the most common questions about Hagia Sophia.
1. When is the best time to visit Hagia Sophia?
Because Ayasofya is now a mosque, it can sometimes be closed for worship. However, they do not close their doors unless there are congregational prayers such as Friday prayers.
The best time to visit Hagia Sophia is between 9 am and 11 am. Because during these hours there are no prayers and the building will definitely be open to visitors.
But Friday is an exception. If you are going to visit this building on Friday, it is a good idea to come in the afternoon. This is because mosques in Istanbul are closed for half the day for Friday prayers.
2. Are the Hagia Sophia mosaics open?
Mosaics inside Hagia Sophia exposed. Three of them are on the ground floor and the remaining three are on the top floor. However, because the gallery on the top floor is still undergoing restoration throughout 2023, the three mosaics on the top floor cannot be seen from December 2023.
There are 3 mosaics from the 9th and 10th centuries on the lower floor of the building. So, you can see the oldest Byzantine mosaics on the ground floor. These include the “Virgin and Child” mosaic, the “Emperor Leo VI” mosaic, and the “Emperors Constantine and Justinian” mosaic.
On the top floor, there are mosaics of Empress Zoe, Emperor John II Komnenos and his family and Christ Pantocrator (Deesis). This is a relatively new mosaic dating from the 11th and 13th centuries.
Based on an official statement made on October 31, 2023, the remaining mosaics in the upper floor gallery of Hagia Sophia will be available for tourists to see on January 15, 2024. However, there will be an entrance fee for Hagia Sophia starting in 2024.
3. What can you see at Ayasofya?
Here you can see hundreds of artifacts from different periods. Byzantine mosaics are first among the things that can be seen at Hagia Sophia. However, the columns and marbles that cover the walls of Hagia Sophia are also historical artifacts.
There are wooden plaques decorated with calligraphy from the Ottoman era. There is also a library added by the Ottomans. Here you can see Ottoman decoration items of the classical period.
The most important decorative elements of the Ottoman classical period are pencil work, Iznik tiles, mother-of-pearl inlaid cabinets, Turkish rugs, and wooden crafts decorated with calligraphy.
4. Should I visit Hagia Sophia with a guide?
Ayasofya has a history of 1500 years and is identified with many legends. If you are a history buff and want to hear this story from someone knowledgeable, yes, you should visit Hagia Sophia with a guide.
Even the mosaics, columns and marbles that decorate the building have their own story. In addition, this building is identified with the most important character in Byzantine history. On the other hand, there are also stories about the Ottoman sultan.
It is recommended to take a guided tour to learn all this. You can make a reservation from this link to take a guided tour of Hagia Sophia. The tour is organized under the guarantee of GetYourGuide, an international travel platform.
5. What can be done to overcome this?
There is Sultanahmet Square around the building. The square where chariot races were held was in the past known as the Hippodrome of Constantinople.
The Hippodrome is important because it is one of the few Byzantine sites in Istanbul. Moreover, if you bring a guide, you can listen to many stories about the races here.
The Hippodrome was also the place where rebellions in the Byzantine Empire began. Especially the Nika Rebellion which is very famous in history and broke out against Emperor Justinianus who built Ayasofya.