Hagia Sophia is one of the most important symbols of the city and is among the first introductions of the new Byzantine style and a model for subsequent Byzantine buildings. Even amidst the many architectural monuments of Sultanahmet (Istanbul’s old city), this ancient building remains one of the main attractions for tourists.

When the Byzantine Emperor Justinian first entered his completed church in 536, it is said that he exclaimed, “Praise be to God that I have been found worthy of such a work. Oh, Solomon, I have overcome you!” Justinian, a passionate supporter of the Christian faith, was also called God’s chosen one. He was told that a vision of the largest temple of Christianity appeared to him in a dream. This monumental building was supposed to represent the union of sacral and secular power. Like the Roman Pantheon, the basilica was built on a rectangular base but with a round dome.

The so-called Justinian’s plan was entrusted to the architects Anthemius of Trallus and Isidore of Miletus. Construction began in 532 and over 10,000 soldiers worked on it. The work was completed in about six years and cost Justinian 145 kilograms of gold. The material was imported from all over the country, marble from as far as the Atlantic Ocean.

In 558, an earthquake destroyed the dome, and it was rebuilt during Justinian’s lifetime, with external pillars strengthening it, which still resists the forces of nature.

The temple is a symbol of the long Christian Byzantine era, for almost 1000 years it was the seat of Byzantine emperors, a basilica, and a coronation temple.

It was occupied by the Crusaders in 1204-1261. After the conquest of Constantinople, Sultan Mehmet II the Conqueror had the temple rebuilt into a mosque. The cross in the dome was replaced by a golden crescent, the figurative Christian mosaics were covered with lime and the interior was adapted to the needs of the mosque. Until the construction of the Blue Mosque in 1619, Hagia Sophia was the main city mosque and the holiest building of the Ottoman Empire, after the Ka’ba in Mecca.

The temple is a display of various crafts, relics, and the final resting place of five Ottoman sultans.

Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya in Turkish) was the emperor’s message to the world about the wealth and technical capabilities of his empire.

Tradition held that the area around the imperial throne within the church was the official center of the world.

From its transformation into a mosque, after the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman armies, to its further transformation into a museum in the 20th century and its transformation back into a functioning mosque in 2020, Hagia Sophia has remained one of Istanbul’s most treasured monuments.

In 1932, President Ataturk had the mosque secularized, revealed the hidden Christian mosaics, and made it a Byzantine-Ottoman museum. Some time ago, the mosque became an active place of prayer.

Since Hagia Sophia is now a functioning mosque again, there is no entrance fee and non-Muslims can enter the building outside of prayer hours. Visitors must dress respectfully (no shorts, short skirts, or strapless tops) and women should wear a headscarf before entering. You can borrow scarves for free at the main entrance. All visitors must remove their shoes upon entry.