One of Istanbul’s top attractions the Hagia Sophia known as Ayasofya in Turkish, originally built to be the greatest church in all of Christendom on the orders of Emperor Justinian in 532 AD.
It served as the largest cathedral in the world for over nine hundred years and is considered to be the finest surviving example of Byzantium architecture. The Hagia Sophia literally meaning “Holy Wisdom” remained as a church and the center of the eastern orthodox religion until 1453, when the city was invaded and conquered by Ottoman Turks. The building was then converted to a mosque at the behest of Sultan Memed ll. A lot of the Christian symbols and artefacts were removed or covered up. Bells, relics and alters were removed whilst mosaics where plastered over or stolen. The addition of minarets and a mimbar (Islamic pulpit) completed the conversion of the building into a mosque. The Hagia Sophia continued to be used as a mosque until 1935 when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk controversially ordered it be turned into a museum, the building had some of its Christian heritage restored and now represents and interesting combination of both Christian and Islamic religious practice. Fundamentalist in both religions still call for it to be returned to use as a church or mosque respectively.
Visiting the Hagia Sophia you will be immediately struck by the huge domed roof, which is quite an engineering feat for 6th century Byzantine, once inside the museum you can’t fail to notice the beautiful natural light and it’s not much of a push of the imagination to imagine how awe inspiring this building was 1500 years ago and why it was considered (and still is) one of the most important buildings in the world.
The Hagia Sophia is in the middle of Istanbul’s historic centre in the sultanahmet area, on Yerebatan Caddesi. The peninsular is best travelled by the Eminönü- Zeytinburnu tram. The museum is situated next to the tramway and is easily identified by it terracotta hued walls, there is also a tourist information booth situated by the tramway. Other attractions nearby include The Blue Mosque, The Basilica Cistern and Topkapi Palace. The Grand Bazaar is just a four minute tram ride away.
There is an entrance fee but if you are travelling with Turks you may be able to blag it for free by speaking a little Turkish and claiming some sort of relation, as entrance is free to Turkish citizens.