Hagia Sophia Logo-125x209 Hagia Sophia Church, Istanbul, Turkey

by Tom Brosnahan
Travel Info Exchange


Hagia Sophia (Greek), Sancta Sophia (Latin), Ayasofya (Turkish)—the Church of the Divine Wisdom is among the most important buildings in the history of architecture.

Built on the order of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527-65 AD) in 537 AD, next to the Empire's Great Palace and the Hippodrome (map), it was the greatest church in Christendom until the construction of St Peter's Basilica in Rome a thousand years later.

Its wide, flat dome was a daring engineering feat in the 6th century, and architects still marvel at the building's many innovations.

The great church was a coveted prize of the young Ottoman sultan, Mehmet the Conqueror, when he took the city from the last holder of the Byzantine imperial title, in 1453. Cleaned, repaired and rededicated, it kept its sacred character as a mosque.

It became the model and starting-point for most Ottoman religious architecture to follow during the empire's later four centuries.

It served as Istanbul's most revered mosque until 1935 when Atatürk, recognizing its world-historical significance, had it proclaimed a museum.

A room on the east side was opened in 2007 as a prayer-place (İbadete Açık Kısmı), and the call to prayer is proclaimed from the four minaret above it that were added by the Ottomans.

In July 2020, the Turkish government changed the building's status and restored it to its earlier Ottoman status of a mosque. Although Hagia Sophia is still open to visitors not coming to pray (as with all the other mosques in Turkey), it may close during the five daily prayer times and during Friday afternoon congregational prayer.

Most of the 30 million gold tesserae (tiny mosaic tiles) which cover the church's interior—especially the dome—have recently been restored to the brilliance they boasted 1500 years ago. The scafflding used for the work, removed during 2012 when Istanbul was a European Capital of Culture, has now been returned to intrude upon the interior.

Although beautiful Byzantine mosaics can be seen throughout the building, the richest collection is on the mezzanine level reached by a rough stone ramp from the narthex.

The Real Façade of Hagia Sophia

About Tom Brosnahan


Istanbul Love Bus, a novel: Istanbul 1968, hippies, spies, drug dealers, and a plot to destroy a world monument
Hagia Sophia Church, Istanbul, Turkey
Hagia Sophia at night in Istanbul.