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Hagia Sophia

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The Hagia Sophia (also known as the Aya Sofya, which is taken from the Greek words for ‘Holy Wisdom’) is a unique Byzantine building and an icon of Istanbul. Originally the seat of the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, it was also used as a mosque by the Ottomans before being secularized and converted to a museum. Since 2020 the Hagia Sophie is a mosque again. The site is hugely popular and can be extremely busy, so book your tickets in advance to skip the lines!
Miriam DewamBy Miriam Dewam
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Tickets

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Istanbul: Hagia Sophia Exterior Tour with Optional Tickets
4.4starstarstarstarstar half(1712)
 
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Hagia Sophia & Old City Highlights Tour with Local Expert
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Museum Pass

Combine your trip to the Hagia Sophia with other museums in Istanbul, and skip the lines when you visit!
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Istanbul: 5-Day Guided Museum Pass
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Combo: Old City, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace & Baslica Cistern
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More Tickets & Tours

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Istanbul: Blue Mosque & Hagia Sophia Guided Tour w/ Tickets
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Istanbul: Topkapi, Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern Tour
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Istanbul: Hagia Sophia, Suleymaniye and Blue Mosque Tour
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Istanbul: Basilica Cistern Skip-the-Line Guided Tour
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8 tips for visiting the Hagia Sophia

View from the Blue Mosque | Photo: Unsplash, Ibrahim Uzun - CC-BY-SA 2.0
1
Advantage of timingSince the Hagia Sophia is one of the most popular sights in Istanbul, a long queue forms easily. To avoid the crowds, you should plan a visit before 12 pm. It is also recommended to visit late at night, as the mosque is open around the clock. Plan at least one to two hours for your visit.
Inside the Hagia Sophia | Photo: Unsplash, Ayadi Ghaith - CC-BY-SA 2.0
2
Respect the prayer timesDuring prayer times, some parts of Hagia Sophia are closed to female visitors, especially during the Friday noon prayer. Before visiting, you should look up the weekly prayer times for Istanbul again, which take place five times a day. Once inside the mosque, you can spend as much time as you want.
3
Dress appropriatelyNote that you should follow the strict dress code, as in any mosque. Knees and shoulders are to be covered, women should not forget a headscarf. You can get appropriate disposable garments at the entrance of Hagia Sophia for a small extra charge.
4
Pay attention to your shoesSince you have to take off your shoes upon entering a mosque, remember in which box you place them. With several shoes taken off, you can quickly lose track of them and not immediately recognize your own pair at the first moment.
5
Book a tour in advanceIf you want to take a guided tour, book one in advance or ask at your hotel. The tours offered directly in front of the entrance are often overpriced and of lower quality.
6
Don't miss the galleryFrom the long stone ramp you can access the upper galleries. Here you get a good view of the main hall, and also get closer to the mosaics of the two pairs of emperors, the Archangel Gabriel, as well as the Deesis mosaics on the walls. Back then, the levels served to separate gender and status.
Blue Mosque Istanbul | Photo: Unsplash, Osman Köycü - CC-BY-SA 2.0
7
Visit multiple mosques in IstanbulNot far from the Hagia Sophia is also the Blue Mosque, which is another popular sight in Istanbul. It is open daily from 9 am to 6 pm, admission is free. Please take note of the prayer times, as some parts may be closed to visitors.
Fountain in the garden of Hagia Sophia | Photo: Ulmon - CC-BY-SA 2.0
8
The garden of the Hagia SophiaWhen visiting this mosque, don't forget to visit its garden! Here you can find parts of the first Hagia Sophia along with other archaeological finds. In addition to a sundial, you can also see a timer, which is used to calculate prayer times. There is also a fountain from 1740, which is picturesquely illuminated at night.
View from the upper floor inside the Hagia Sophia | Photo: Unsplash, Raimond Klavins - CC-BY-SA 2.0

The multi-faceted mosque

The history of Hagia Sophia Mosque is as extraordinary as its design is unique. The Holy Wisdom, the first work of Byzantine architecture, is today the most visited sight in Turkey and an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The continuous reconstruction

In 360 AD, the first Hagia Sophia was built of wood, which burned down after an uprising. The church was then rebuilt from scratch in 415 AD, this time using mainly marble, but this too could not withstand a revolt. The Hagia Sophia, as it is known to us today, was completed after only six years of construction in 537 AD and was to become the largest church in the world, which it remained for almost 1000 years. Due to many earthquakes, which also caused the dome to collapse, several improvement works followed to strengthen the building.

Its diverse use

Hagia Sophia was originally built as a Greek Orthodox church, later used as a Catholic cathedral. Then, as Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans, they rededicated it to a mosque in 1453. Elements that were compatible with Islam were allowed to remain, others were simply covered with mortar or destroyed. Crosses were dismantled and the bell removed from the tower, also followed the construction of the first minarets (minaret is an elevated stand or tower for the caller to prayer at or near a mosque) and a mihrab (a mihrab is the Islamic prayer niche in mosques that indicates the direction of prayer). As early as 1453, one minaret was built on each flank of the church. Two more towers were added in the following decades, but the two oldest were demolished and replaced by new ones in 1573, meaning that the building is now surrounded by four minarets. Also, 7.5 m (25 ft) round wooden shields adorning the name of the Prophet Muhammad were installed, which are still the largest in the world.
Mosaics in the Hagia Sophia | Photo: Unsplash, Raimond Klavins - CC-BY-SA 2.0

The current change

After it was decided to turn Hagia Sophia into a museum and prohibit its use as a sacred building, it remained closed to the public between 1931 and 1935. During this time, some elements of the period were uncovered in order to shed light on the different periods of Hagia Sophia's history. Thus, Christian mosaics that were thought to be lost reappeared, also the removal of the carpet exposed the marble floor. Since 2020, Hagia Sophia is once again a mosque and open to visitors.
The dome of the Hagia Sophia | Photo: Unsplash, Raimond Klavins - CC-BY-SA 2.0

The centerpiece

The Hagia Sophia is unique not only because of its moving history - it is the result of a plan that had no models, nor was it meant to imitate. The current form was planned by the mathematicians Isidore of Miletus and Anthemios, who focused on building a huge dome with a diameter of over 30 meters. The dome was to crown the angular space: the light that enters through the windows frames the golden dome which make it seem as it is floating, reinforcing the symbolism of a sky. It was to be supported by only four columns, an undertaking not dared by anyone before! The result was a building that pushed the technical possibilities of the time to the limit and served as an inspiration for future mosques around the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Hagia Sophia barrier-free accessible?

All of Hagia Sophia Mosque is wheelchair-accessible. The second entry has carpeted flooring, so wheelchair users should bring wet wipes and clean wheels. Read more.

Are there parking facilities?

Please note that the area does not have parking spaces. Read more.

Is it allowed to carry bags and backpacks during the tour?

Small luggage items such as bags and backpacks may be brought into the mosque. Please note that there are no luggage storage facilities available. Read more.

Is it allowed to take photos and videos in the mosque?

For personal purposes, videos and photos may be taken without flash during the visit. Please note that the use of tripods is not allowed; also respect should be shown to those praying. Read more.

General information

opening hours

The Hagia Sophia is open every day of the week, from 09:00 in the morning until 22:00 in the evening. Exceptions occur during prayer times, and visitors are advised to take note of these when planning their visit. We recommend a guided tour, which should be booked in advance to discover the hidden details of the building.

tickets

Admission to the mosque is free of charge, those who wish may give a donation.

address

Hagia Sophia Museum
Sultan Ahmet Mahallesi
Ayasofya Meydanı
34122 Fatih/İstanbul

how to get there

The Hagia Sophia is a short walk from the tram stop Sultanahmet (T1) and from bus stop Akbıyık (81, BN1, BN2, and YT-1). It’s also a short walk from the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and a number of Istanbul’s most popular museums.
Miriam Dewam
Written byMiriam DewamMiriam is keen on traveling and has a passion for photography, which she can enhance through her cross-media studies. She uses her knowledge as well as first hand experience from diverse travels to help other travellers as a content creator at TicketLens.
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