Hagia Sophia (meaning: “Holy Wisdom”), formerly known as the Church of Holy Wisdom and Hagia Sophia Museum or today officially known as Hagia Sophia-i Kebîr Câmi-i Şerîfi (Holy Great Hagia Sophia Mosque) is a mosque and former basilica, cathedral and museum located in Istanbul.

It was a basilica-planned patriarchal cathedral built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I in the old city center of Istanbul’s historical peninsula between 532 and 537. After the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottomans in 1453, Mehmed converted it into a mosque. With the Decree of the Council of Ministers issued by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in 1934, it was converted into a museum, and excavation and renovation works were started. It served as a museum from 1935 to 2020. In 2020, its museum status was canceled, and mosque status was given.

Hagia Sophia is a domed basilica type building that combines the central plan in terms of architecture. It is considered an important turning point in the history of architecture with its dome passage and carrier system features. In addition to being symbolic and pivotal for Christians, it is a touristic and spiritual center of attraction.

The word “Aya” in the name Hagia Sophia means “sacred”.Meanwhile, “Sofia” comes from the Greek word sophos, meaning “wisdom”. Therefore, the name “Hagia Sophia” means “Holy Wisdom” or “Divine Wisdom”, referring to Jesus of Nazareth, and is considered one of the three attributes of God in Christian theology.

It is stated that approximately 10,000 workers worked in the construction of Hagia Sophia, directed by Isidore of Miletus and Antemius of Tralles, and Emperor Justinian I spent a great fortune on this work. A feature of this very old building is that some of the columns, doors and stones used in its construction were brought from buildings and temples older than the building.

During the Byzantine Empire, Hagia Sophia had a great wealth of “sacred relics”. One of these relics was the 15-meter-high silver iconostasis.

Hagia Sophia, the church of the Patriarch of Constantinople and the center of the Eastern Orthodox Church for 1000 years, was built in 1054 by Patriarch Michael I and Pope IX. He witnessed his excommunication by Leo III, an event generally considered the beginning of the “Schisma”, that is, the separation of the Eastern and Western churches, one of the most important events in the history of Christianity.

In 1453, the church was built by the Ottoman Sultan II. After it was converted into a mosque by Mehmed, the mosaics containing human figures were not destroyed (those that did not contain them were left as they were). Instead, the mosaics were only covered with a thin plaster and remained under plaster for centuries, thus being able to escape natural and artificial destruction. While the mosque was converted into a museum, some of the plaster was removed, and the mosaics were brought to light again.

The Hagia Sophia building seen today is also known as the “Third Hagia Sophia” because it is the third church built in the same location. The first two churches were destroyed during the riots. The central dome of Hagia Sophia, which was the largest dome of its time, collapsed once during the Byzantine period (on May 7, 558), and has never collapsed since the Ottoman chief architect Mimar Sinan added buttresses to the building.


Hagia Sophia is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. Its interior is decorated with mosaics, marble pillars, and coverings of great artistic value. Justinian had overseen the completion of the greatest cathedral ever built up to that time, and it was to remain the largest cathedral for 1,000 years until the completion of the cathedral in Seville in Spain.

The Hagia Sophia uses masonry construction. The structure has brick and mortar joints that are 1.5 times the width of the bricks. The mortar joints are composed of a combination of sand and minute ceramic pieces distributed evenly throughout the mortar joints. This combination of sand and potsherds was often used in Roman concrete, a predecessor to modern concrete. A considerable amount of iron was used as well, in the form of cramps and ties.

Justinian’s basilica was at once the culminating architectural achievement of late antiquity and the first masterpiece of Byzantine architecture. Its influence, both architecturally and liturgically, was widespread and enduring in the Eastern Christianity, Western Christianity, and Islam alike.

The vast interior has a complex structure. The nave is covered by a central dome which at its maximum is 55.6 m (182 ft 5 in) from floor level and rests on an arcade of 40 arched windows. Repairs to its structure have left the dome somewhat elliptical, with the diameter varying between 31.24 and 30.86 m (102 ft 6 in and 101 ft 3 in).

Each of the four sides of the great square Hagia Sophia is approximately 31 m long, and it was previously thought that this was the equivalent of 100 Byzantine feet.

Working days

Hagia Sophia is open every day of the week. Hagia Sophia opening hours are between 09:00 in the morning and 23:30 in the late evening.

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