/ The Istanbul Guide
Istanbul — By inka on May 23, 2010 at 7:34 pm
Filed under: history

Still standing in unabashed glory – Hagia Sofia

It’s no doubt the crowning glory of any visit to Istanbul: a stroll around the magnificent Hagia Sofia in Sultanahmed.

Hagia Sofia in Sultanahmed

Just get this:  Hagia Sofia has been a church for 917 years, a mosque for 482 years and continues its historical function as a museum since 1935. No other building with such multiple history has survived fires, earthquakes, wars and anything in between for so long and still looks as if it could easily stand for another 1000 years or so.

The name Hagia Sofia does not, as is often thought, refer to a saint. It rather is the translation from ancient Greek meaning ‘Holy Wisdom of God.’

The current building was constructed under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian between 532 and 537. It was preceded by two other churches, the first dedicated in 360 which were both destroyed by fires during riots.

For nearly 1000 years, Hagia Sofia, considered as the epitome of Byzantine architecture, was the largest cathedral in the world.

In 1453 the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople and Sultan Mehmed II ordered the church to be converted into a mosque. Many Christian symbols and ornaments like huge gold mosaics depicting the Byzantine emperors as well as Christ and the Virgin Mary, were either removed or simply plastered over. The marble floors were covered with carpets and minarets were added as well as rich Arabic inscriptions with verses from the Koran.

In 1935, Atatürk ordered Hagia Sofia to become a museum which it remains to this day.

How to get there and what to do

Hagia Sofia  (map) is located in the historical Sultanahmed district of Istanbul and best reached by the Zeytinburnu – Kabatas streetcar, getting off at the Sultanahmed stop. Cross over the tramlines and head towards the big, cobbled square in front of Hagia Sofia. The entrance is to the left, you can’t miss it, it’s where the long, long lines form during the summer!!

Admission is TYL 25 (approx. $17) and you can wander around with the help of your won guidebook. You can also join a guided tour if you wish.

The museum is open from 9 am to 5pm except on Mondays when it is closed.

This no longer being a working mosque, there is no need to cover your head or remove your shoes.

Enter through one of the side doors and just crane your neck upwards and look around. A stone staircase to the left leads to the upper gallery where you can admire – from a distance – several of the world famous gold mosaics. They are very  high up in the huge dome and lighting inside the building I dim, so you really need to look closely.

Downstairs again I particularly like the huge portal through which the sultans used to enter the mosque.

Sultans portal inside Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sofia is a unique experience, because on the one hand it’s fascinating to see the mixture of Christian and Islam symbols and art and on the other, because you are just overwhelmed by something so old, so beautiful and seemingly so indestructible.

Photographs are authors own.

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