Known as the “Great Church” or “Magna Ecclesia” in Latin, the first church was built at the same location where there had been a pagan temple before. It was Constantinus II who inaugurated Hagia Sophia on February 360. From the chronicles of Socrates of Constantinople, we know that the church was built by the orders of Constantine the Great.

That first church was a wooden roofed basilica with a nave flanked by two or four aisles, each carrying a gallery storey. It was preceded by an atrium. This church was largely burned down in 404 during the riots since patriarch John Chrysostom was sent into a exile by the Emperor Arcadius.

After the first church being destroyed, Theodosius II ordered it to be repaired and inaugurated the second church on 10 October, 405.

Today, we still don’t know whether the original fourth century plans remained unchanged or not. But still it consisted of standard architectural elements of the Byzantine period; an atrium, probably a narthex and a basilica with galleries.

The second church was completely destroyed during the tumult of the Nika Revolt in 13-14 January 532.

Today, some marble blocks from the second church are represented at the courtyard of the museum.

Only a short time after the destruction of the second church, Justinian the Great suppressed the riots and set about rebuilding what was damaged and destroyed.

He commissioned two men, Anthemius of Tralles and Elder Isidore of Miletus to build a third church at the same location which would be greater than its previous predecessors. Anthemius and Isidore were not referred as architects, but they were called “mechanikoi” which means “the master of science and mechanics”. None of them is known to have any building experience before Hagia Sophia. However, they created one of the most significant monuments on Earth.

The construction started only a short while after the end of Nika Revolt. Many materials had been brought from all over the empire, including yellow stone from Syria, porphyry Egypt and Hellenic Columns from the Artemis Temple in Ephesus. More than ten thousand people worked for the construction and the third church was inaugurated by the emperor on 27th December, 537. The mosaics were finished later, during the reign of Justin II (565-578).

The Prophet Muhammed, had prophesied that the first Muslim to pray in Hagia Sophia would go to paradise. Since then, it was a great ambition for Muslim leaders to get the Hagia Sophia.

On 29th May, 1453, The Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmet II, conquered Constantinople after 54 day siege. He directly went to the ancient Byzantine cathedral of Hagia Sophia. When he saw a man hacking the stones of the church and saying that this was a temple for infidels, Mehmet II ordered the looting to be stopped and church to be converted into a mosque.

With the following years, Sultans added something new to the building. Sultan Bayezid ordered a new minaret changing the previous one of his father’s. In the 16th century, Süleyman the Magnificent brought two colossal candles from Hungary to be placed on both sides of the mihrab. To the end of the 16th century during the reign od Selim II, famous architect Sinan strengthened the building by adding structural supports to its exterior. He also built two minarets on the western end of the building.

Two restorations were done in Hagia Sophia at the following years. In 1739, during the reign of Mahmud I, a medrese, a kitchen to distrubute poor, a library and in 1740 a fountain for ritual ablutions were built.

If any western visitors wanted to visit Hagia Sophia prior to Fossati restoration, they needed a “firman” a special permit from the sultan which was difficult to obtain. During the restoration, travelers had a chance to see the work. In 1934, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, oredered the building to be transformed into a museum.

The uncovering of mosaics had already begun in 1931 by the leadership of Thomas Whittemore. This time, white plasters covering the mosaics were pulled out, carpets on the floor were removed and the original decor could be seen for the first time in centuries. Hagia Sophia Museum opened in 1st February 1935.


Hagia Sophia means “Divine Wisdom” in Greek, this was an Orthodox Church for 916 years dedicated to Holy Wisdom, not to Saint Sophia as some people wrongly call it today. It was used as a mosque for 481 years. In 1934, by the order of the founder of Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, it was made into a museum and since then it’s open to visitors.


Christ with the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist.

Hagia Sophia was beautifully decorated with mosaics within the centuries during the Byzantine period. These mosaics depicted Virgin Mary, Jesus, Saints and emperors or empresses. The history of the earliest mosaics are unknown as many of them were destroyed or covered during Iconoclasm.

During the 4th crusade in 1204, Latin Crusaders sacked many Byzantine buildings including Hagia Sophia. Many beautiful mosaics were removed and shipped to Venice. After the Ottoman occupation of Constantinople in 1453, with the transition of Hagia Sophia into mosque, the mosaics were covered white-washed or plastered with Fossati Brother’s restoration in 1847, the mosaics got uncovered and were copied for the record. But they still remained covered until 1931 when a restoration and recovery program began under the leadership of Thomas Whittemore.

In 1934, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk ordered that Hagia Sophia would become a museum, the recovery and restoration expanded then. However, many of the great mosaics that Fossati Brothers recorded had disappeared probably with the earthquake in 1894.


The dome of Hagia Sophia is the most striking element in the structure. Even though it was made by an intention of leaving behind the buildings made up to that time, the dome of Pantheon is larger. Nevertheless, it’s unique in a style of putting a dome on a square base which combines the secular power of a dome and spirituality of Christianity with a basilica form.

The first dome built by Anthemius & Isidorus was planned as a circle. However; it turned out to be an ellipse. When the dome collapsed mostly during on earthquake in 558, Justinian commissioned Isidore the Younger whose structurally deformed work of art survives still today.

The dome is 31,7 meters in diameter and 55,6 meters high from floor level. It’s supported by the arch between piers, called pendentives which were unique at those times.

The sunlight which floats all around the church and shines upon the gilded mosaics enters mostly from the forty windows encircling the base of the dome. The windows are not only a source of light but also an alarm of a breakdown in the dome on the pendentives.

The soil mixture of the dome consists of only morfar and brick. From time to time, restorations have been done to strengthen the structure.

It was believed that originally there was a huge cross and later a mosaic of Christ Pantocrator which is thought to have collapsed in an earthquake. During the Fossati Restoration, a verse from Quran was inscripted by M. İzzet Efendi in the center of the dome.


The Hagia Sophia may no longer be a place of worship, but one superstition- allegedly dating back to the days of Justinian I lives on. Located at the northwest exit of the nave, the sweating column stands. Legend has it that if you stick your thumb into a small hole in a cooper facing of “the weeping column” and your thumb emerges moist, you’ll be cured all of your ailments. Cynics, point out that you’re more likely to get a wet thumb on busy days when plenty of sweat digits have preceded you.

Also, it has been rumored that the column performs miracles. People put their thumbs inside the hole and twist their hand 360 degrees. If you do that, it’s said that your wish will come true.


In Hagia Sophia, three doors of outer narthex which symbolize the Holy Trinity give way to outer narthex with five doors. From there nine gates lead to heart of the building.

The largest (7 meters high) is made of oak and has a bronze frame. It is the most magnificent door among the doors of Hagia Sophia, which were up to 40 in Byzantine times. The Emperor Door is believed to have been made of the woods from Noah’s Ark.

Above the door, it’s found a metal box attributed as a coffin. According to legend a Byzantine Empress who was afraid of shakes wanted to be buried in a metal coffin. However, her last will seems to be in vain because of the holes on it. On the coffin, you can see also a relief of a bird on a throne and an open passage from Gospel.


The Hagia Sophia is in the heart of Sultanahmet, close to other popular sights including Basilica Cistern, Topkapı Palace, Istanbul Archaelogy Museum and Blue Mosque. The distance between Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque is only two minutes walk. To reach Hagia Sophia is about taking tram number 1 to Sultanahmet and walk through the Square and eventually you’ll see the glorious Hagia Sophia.

Visiting Hours: 9:00am and 5:00pm in Winter Time – 9:00am and 19:00pm in Summer Time.
Entrance Fee: 72 TL