• hagia-sophia-0

Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul

It is the biggest and oldest church in the world. Hagia Sophia is ancestor of all domed church in the world including San Pietro in papacy center Vatican.


It is real. Hagia Sophia was built in Istanbul, where Christianity was accepted as an official religion for  the first time and Christians could worship cavalierly after more than 300 forbidden years.  So creating this structure in this city is actually significant. Present day Hagia Sophia isn’t the first one in this location. The first church was built on the first hill of seven hills Istanbul in the second half of 4. century by Rome Emperor Constantius. But this wooden structure was probably a victim of unending fire in Istanbul and after 40 years  it burned to a cinder. Than second church near main entrance gate of Hagia Sophia  was built at the beginning of 5. century by Emperor II Teodosius who was a devout Christian. Sheep reliefs, depicting 12 Apostles of Jesus in early Christian iconography, can be seen on present day ruins of it.

Life of second Hagia Sophia was long but its end was lugubrious. One day, a fight broke out in racecourse of that period, which is Sultan Ahmet Square today, expanded to an incredible extent and turned into a rebellion against young Emperor Justinyen. Rebels moved to palace but they couldn’t find the emperor and set fire to Hagia Sophia of Justinyen because of their anger. With the cold-blooded decisions of Teodora, discussed wife of Justinyen, the rebellion was quelled bloodily.

It was the year 532. Immediately after burning of imperial church, the young emperor decided to build a new church. When his stubbornness and dynamism United with his wife’s greed, a plan was created to build the biggest church of the world. A mathematician and an architect were called to Istanbul for the plan. Both of them came from fertile plains of Ionian. One of them is famous architect Antemius from Tralleis, the other is famous math teacher Isidoros from Milet.


Plan was completed. According to the plan, the biggest dome was designed. The emperor wanted this. Also Justiyen had a lot of money. After the split of Rome, the empire went  through the wringer for a short time but than it became stronger and moved closer to the old magnificent Rome with its land from Italy to Egypt. Its armies had a lot of victories with talented supreme commander Belisarius. All wealth of east flowed to Istanbul so young emperor got spoiled rightly. It wasn’t important for him what people think about building of the church. According to the emperor, money of people could be spended easily to built the biggest church. So construction began on 23. February 532.  10.000 worker approached this work  with a great effort. They went to Rome and columns were moved from there. Columns of old temples were moved to Istanbul from Lebanon. Artemis Temple, which is one of the seven wonders of the world in Efes, was plundered to built  Hagia Sophia. It shouldn’t be forget that reason of this plunder is multi-religious of the building. Good alabaster and marble slabs were moved from Egypt and Libya. But the best marble slabs were moved from the closest place, the Marmara Sea. Origin of name of the sea is also marble. The dome rised and expanded more and more.

Stones were moved by worker and slaves. Mosaic masters from all world were called to paste the imperial gold to walls. There was a great excitement in Rome.

On 27. December 537, a cold winter day, key of the church was presented to the emperor. It was  incredible. Construction of Hagia Sophia was finished  in a short period, only in 5 years  10 months 4 days. Maybe it can be finished in some decades today. Obviously, angels and Gods helped  to built the  dome, 56 meters in height and 32 meters in diameter.

As soon as the emperor opened the door, he got carried out and run to middle of Hagia Sophia.He said

“ Hey Suleyman, I beat you”.

He implied the Hz. Suleyman Temple in Jerusalem. So Hagia Sophia became the biggest church. Justiyen didn’t forget morale in material wealth and named the church Hagia Sophia, meaning “holy wisdom”.

The empire was shocked by death of the most famous Rome empress  Teodora  and collapse of the Hagia Sophia’s dome in 557. Angels couldn’t protect Teodora in earth and Hagia Sophia in sky, in which they were pictured. The dome was built again but it would collapse more. Thus every earthquake in Istanbul collapsed and cracked a little more. All of them couldn’t cast a cloud for importance  and grandeur of Hagia Sophia. Also any structure like it couldn’t be built in Europe for hundreds of years.

Hagia Sophia witnessed a lot of events. People, who didn’t want to give their icons to soldiers, refuged here in  “iconoclasm” period  in 8. and 9. century . This dark period lasted for more than 120 years and all pictorial religious depictions were elminated. Old mosaics of Hagia Sophia were affected probably from this demolition.  So present day mosaics in Hagia Sophia were maden since second half of 9. century after iconoclasm movement. For example, gilded mosaics on imperial gate of Hagia Sophia, which depicts Jesus, Mother Mary, Gabriel and 6. Leo,  were maden at mid-9. century after releasing of picture.

During 4. Crusades to Istanbul, Orthodox people in Istanbul were hidden in Hagia Sophia but it was bootless. Catholic crusaders conquested Hagia Sophia. They attached importance here and when commander Enrico Dandolo died, they buried him in upstairs gallery of the church.

Crusades not only stayed in Istanbul for 57 yearsbut also they examined and understood splendor of Hagia Sophia and genius of its architects. Thus all domed church in Europe were built after crusades.

57 years crusades management left Istanbul in 1261 and Paleogos turned back to Istanbul, which was the last dynasty of Rome empire and witnessed breakup.

East Rome worsened thoroughly. The empire, which couldn’t get rid of fatigue of 1500 years, weakened more and more. Also it couldn’t repair the big church.  In a sense, Ottoman empire resqued the church. Fatih Sultan Mehmet (Mehmet the Conqueror) entered the city on a white horse  on 29. May 1453 and went to Hagia Sophia directly. Accordin to rumour, he prayed in front of Mother Mary mosaics in the church for the first time.

Hagia Sophia lives still as the oldest and biggest church in the world, it is thanks to Ottoman Turks.”

It is real. Ottomans didn’t change its name and interior view, added same color marbles, covered mosaics with whitewash so they protected Hagia Sophia.

In 17. and 18. century Baroque and in 19. century  Rococo came to Ottomans Istanbul. Altars and decorations in Baroque and Rococo style were maden in Hagia Sophia. They befitted so much. Any additions didn’t appear bad. Ottomans Sultans attached importance to protect its originality because they had artistic elegance  and believed that they were heirs of East Rome.  For example, “the Sultan’s Loge” seems elegant despite of its huge body, which was added near the mihrab wall in 18. century in Rococo style.


It is impossible not to see the samples of calligraphy, which were added to the structure  in mid-19. century. They are eight and are hang on eight struts of Hagia Sophia for Allah, Hz.Mohammed, Four Caliphs, Hasan and Huseyin, two sons of the fourth Calioh Hz.Ali. These boards were written on camel skin by famous calligrapher Mustafa İzzet Efendi. These names are in all mosques but the most beautiful and biggest aspects of them are in Hagia Sophia.


When we are in front of the mihrab and look up, we see an interesting thing. There are gold glided board of Mother Mary holding Jesus in her lap and magnificent boards from camel skin of Allah and Hz. Mohammed’s  names  in arabic at the upper portion.


You can find a photo frame, in which there are both Islam and Christianity symbols, in very few place in the world. This is importance and meaning of Istanbul for world history. There are both East and West, Islam and Christianity.

This view is really incredible. We can see that Islam and Christianity can bless the same temple. We can see respect of Ottomans Sultans fort he other religions. When Hagia Sophia turned to a mosque, Ottomans Sultans didn’t break mosaic boards, respected their artistic beauties  and covered them only with whitewash because they were contradictious pictures for Islam. We are proud of them. That’s why Ottoman empire lived for 400 years in three continents. They didn’t forget justice, respect and its past.

Hagia Sophia went unheeded in last years of Ottoman empire because of recession. For example, unlikeable wall paints at upper floor were maden in this period. Mosaic masters couldn’t be called because of limited potentialities of the empire and it painted superficially.

I want to write something about  17. century magnificent mosaic  board, which you can see at right side of balcony when you are in front of the mihrab wall. This golden yellow-based wall board is very interesting because it shows us again that Renaissance started earlier in İstanbul two centuries ago  than in Italy. There is depiction of Jesus in the middle, John the Baptist on the right and Mother Mary on the left. Rate of body and head in this depiction has features of Renaissance in middle ages for the first time. Another feature of Renaissance pictures, face expression is seen in this depiction  in middle ages fort he first time.Jesus in the middle was depicted as he lighted and would speak. When we look at face of Jons the baptist, we can see pain, bother and stoics in hard times of Christianity at the same time. Drawing of his hair is magnificent. He stands, throws up his hands to God Jesus and worships. We can see innocence and surrender in Mother Mary’s face.


We can see two mosaics at the end of the gallery. These mosaics aren’t as beautiful as mentioned ones but Empress Zeo mosaic on the left is especially interesting. Life story of the 11. century empress is very interesting. Zeo was sent to monastery by his father when she was only 12. After death of his father and 31 years, she left monastery at age of 43 and married. There was no problem so far. But she married repeatedly  for 4 times and made amends his lost years. Zoe was depicted in this mosaic with one of his husbands.

After Hagia Sophia used as church and mosque, it turned into a museum in 1935 by Ataturk. Only this decision is enough to understand genius of the leader. Thus Istanbul is not only representative of East and West, but also it shows tolerance and respect of Ottoman Empire to whole world.

hagia-sophia-2 hagia-sophia-3

Would you like to browse the Istanbul City Tours including the Hagia Sophia Museum visit with professional guides?
You can find our Istanbul City Tours including Hagia Sophia Museum visit below

Istanbul Tours
Istanbul Tours

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *