Visiting Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya)

Walking through the giant entrance doors is both humbling and breathtaking. There is a crumbling faded beauty here. Along with the peeling paint and missing mosaic tiles, there are graceful arches, intricate wood carvings and ironwork, and sunlight filtered through high windows. Close your eyes and imagine the electric bulbs suspended from the ceiling were once thousands of candles.

Hagia Sophia Outside
Hagia Sophia Outside

From the outside it’s easy to confuse the Hagia Sophia with just another mosque in a city which has hundreds. There’s a big dome and minarets flanking the four corners, but walk inside and it’s another story all together. In fact, many times I found myself looking at the skyline from a distance and wondering …”which is which?

Hagia Sophia Courtyard
Hagia Sophia Courtyard
Hagia Sophia Entrance
Entering the Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia was first a christian church built mostly as it stands now, giant dome and all, in the sixth century. When the Ottomans took over in the 15th century it was converted to a mosque, complete with minarets and changing the orientation of the apse to face Mecca.

Now, both the church and the mosque have been deconsecrated and the building is a museum open to the public Tuesday-Sunday, check for summer/winter hours and admission prices.

Hagia Sophia Dome
Hagia Sophia Dome
Hagia Sophia dome
Hagia Sophia dome

It’s hard to gain perspective on the center dome from photos, but from the floor to the top of the dome is 184 feet. Keep in mind this was built in 537 AD, long before the likes of St Peter’s in Rome.

Hagia Sophia Dome
Hagia Sophia Dome
Hagia Sophia lights
Hagia Sophia lights
Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia scroll woodwork on the Sultan's loge, built in 1847.
Hagia Sophia window
Out the window from the gallery.
Hagia Sophia balcony view
Hagia Sophia gallery view

The photo above shows the mihrab, placed offset at the end of the apse, indicating the exact direction of Mecca. They could not change the orientation of the church when it was converted into a mosque which is why the mihrab is not symmetrical to the rest of the structure.

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia iron work from the gallery
Hagia Sophia balcony view
Hagia Sophia gallery view

Upstairs in the gallery are a number of mosaics. We went in search of one listed as “Emperor Alexander holding a skull” (how could you not?) but we were unable to find it. But not to worry, there were plenty of others including a slightly disquieting one below.

Hagia Sophia Mosaic
Hagia Sophia Mosaic

Would it be sacrilegious to say that the baby Jesus looks a little like Chuckie in the above mosaic?

Hagia Sophia Mosaic
Hagia Sophia Mosaic
Hagia Sophia Mosaic
Hagia Sophia Mosaic
Hagia Sophia window view of Blue Mosque
View of Blue Mosque
Hagia Sophia
Behind the Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia view
Hagia Sophia view from the Blue Mosque Courtyard

10 Comments Add yours

  1. One of the things that, from my memory, most brochures and guidebooks don’t mention about the Hagia Sofia is that it was originally built as atonement for one of the greatest state-ordered killing of civilians in world history, the Nike Revolt. In the Hippodrome right outside where the HS is now, the Emperor Justinian ordered soldiers to surround the chariot racing arena full of about 40,000+ rioting chariot racing fans and to kill them all. It may well have been necessary to prevent further riot and revolution, but the sheer disastrous carnage caused him to vow a new church in order to repent before God. So it has a very odd legacy.

    Also, the current dome doesn’t date from 537, but about a century later; the first one fell down, sadly.

    1. Anise, thanks for the added history. No, my guidebook didn’t mention any of this! But I have you, so I don’t need no stinkin’ guidebooks. 😉

  2. Natalie says:

    Did you know that there are actually three Hagia sophias Turkey? I only found out the other day. This one is of course the biggest and quite possibly the best in terms of the wow factor

    1. Natalie- Now that you say it, it sounds familiar but I don’t know where they are.

  3. Dave says:

    The last time I was there the whole interior was covered in scaffolding. Looks like they cleared that up now. Lots of constant renovation too.

    Fantastic and beautiful interior from an exterior that as you said can fool you into thinking it’s just another mosque.

    1. Dave, exactly! Even though I’d seen pictures, I was really stunned by the interior beauty of the structure once I walked inside. The exterior doesn’t really hint at it.

  4. vicki says:

    Wow! what an old and beautiful place. I’ve wanted to see it since reading about it in the book, The Librarian. And I agree, that likeness is a bit like Chuckie.

    1. (Thursday, January 5, 2017) Does the baby Jesus look like Chuckie? Or is it Chuckie who looks like the Baby Jesus, reminding us that no matter how depraved and violent we may be, the Creator loves us all, that we all exist in the infinite Mind of G-d, and that we can choose to turn to happiness, freedom, and truth, no matter what… Happy New Year to all!

Make my day, leave a comment!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.