Hagia Sophia Museum

The Hagia Sophia is unique in terms of architecture, magnificence, size and functionality; a product of the East-West synthesis, which had also inspired the Ottoman mosques. This monument is one of the most prominent surviving structures in the world historical heritage. Therefore, Hagia Sophia, has remained an attraction for centuries with its history, architecture, mosaics and also Turkish era refurbishments.

After having served as a church for 916 years and a mosque for 481 years, Hagia Sophia is a museum since 1935. The Byzantine historians (Theophanes, Nikephoros, Leon the Grammarist) suggested that the first Hagia Sophia was built during the reign of Emperor Constantine the First (324-337). This basilica- plan structure with a wooden roof was destroyed by fire during an uprising. No remains have survived to our day.

Emperor Theodosius the Second had Hagia Sophia built for the second time and opened it to worship in 415. This structure also had a basilica plan, and was burned down in 532 during the Nika revolts. Excavations in 1936 revealed some remains of the second building. These are the steps, columns and various architectural pieces showing the entrance to the temple.

Emperor Justinianus (527-565) wanted to build a church larger than the first two Hagia Sophia structures. The famous architects of the age, Isidorus of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, were commissioned to build this new Hagia Sophia. Columns, marbles and colored stones from the ancient city ruins of Anatolia were brought to Istanbul to be used in the construction of Hagia Sophia.

The construction of Hagia Sophia started on December 23, 532 and was completed on December 27, 537. From an architectural point of view, the edifice is made of a large central space, two side spaces (nave), the apse, and inner and outer narthexes. The indoor area measures 100 meters by 70 meters. It is covered by a 55 meters high dome, with a diameter of 30.31 meters. It is supported by four large pillars.

Besides its architecture, the mosaics of Hagia Sophia are of great importance. The oldest mosaics are gilded with geometric and floral motifs in the inner narthex and the lateral naves. Figured mosaics were designed between the ninth and the twelfth centuries. These are seen on the Emperor’s gate, on the apse, on the exit door and on the upper gallery.

The Hagia Sophia has undergone various repairs during the Turkish period, which began with the conquest of Istanbul. The altar is surrounded by some of the most beautiful examples of Turkish tile and calligraphic arts. Of these, a sura from the Koran written by the famous Turkish calligrapher Kazasker Mustafa Izzet Efendi on the dome and the round plaques (with a diameter of 7.50 meters), are the most interesting ones. On these plaques, the names of Allah, Muhammad, Omar, Osman, Ali, Hasan, Abu Bakr and Husain are written.  On the side walls of the altar, there are plaques written by the Ottoman sultans that were presented to the site. The tombs of the sultans Selim the Second, Mehmet the Third and Murat the Third and the princes, the fountain of Sultan Mahmut the First, infants’ school, kitchen, library, sultan’s lodge of Sultan Abdülmecit, and timing room were built during the Turkish era. The interior decorations of Sultan Tombs, their tiles and architecture depict the best examples of the classic Ottoman tradition.