Fascinating History Of Hagia Sophia Museum

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History Of Hagia Sophia (Sofia) Museum With Photos

Hagia Sophia simply means Church of the Holy Wisdom. The building is certainly one of the most impressive buildings ever constructed in the world. Built by the most succesful emperor of Byzantine Empire, Justinian, in 530s. Hagia Sophia Museum is the most visited sight in Istanbul.

Hagia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom) History

This incredible temple was begun to be constructed in 532 and was completed in 537. It was commissioned by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian to two of the important architects of the century: Named Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus. These architects not only built the biggest structure of humanity until then but charmed the city folk as well. The enthusiasm and curiosity generated by Hagia Sophia went on for centuries and it served as the biggest religious building of Byzantine Empire for a millennium.

Hagia Sophia Center
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Hagia Sophia impressed the people Of Constantinople for a thousand year. © Serhat Engul

Nika Revolt And Collapse Of The Theodisios Hagia Sophia

Due to the destruction of the previous church by a riot in the same place, Hagia Sophia was built. Named as Nika Revolt, this uprising took place during the reign of Justinian, the greatest Emperor of Byzantium. During this riots, the city was seriously damaged by over 40.000 rioters and Theodosius Hagia Sophia, which was there before Hagia Sophia, was demolished.

The ancient columns and remnants on the garden date back from this era. Belisarius, who was ordered by Justinian to end the riot, suppressed the riot by killing over 30.000 people. Afterwards, Justinian initiated a rebuilding of the city and Hagia Sophia, the biggest temple ever seen, was built.

Hagia Sophia Courtyard
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The remnants Of Theodosios Hagia Sophia © Serhat Engul

Architectural Creations And Dome Of Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia was the greatest church in Christendom for a thousand years. Justinian’s church remained as the largest church of the world until St. Peter’s Basilica was constructed in Rome 1000 years later. It was a legendary building throughout the medieval age. Hagia Sophia’s huge dome (56 meters high) was a daring engineering feat in the 6th century and architects still admire Hagia Sophia’s brilliant architecture and innovations.

Hagia Sophia Architecture

Hagia Sophia Architecture

Hagia Sophia View From Square With Minarets And Tombs Of Sultans

Ottomans added these minarets long years after they convert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. Ottomans paid utmost respect to the sacred building and proclaimed it as the protocol mosque. Head of all mosques in Ottoman Empire. Four Ottoman Sultans buried in their tombs which are located in the courtyard.

Hagia Sophia Exterior
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Architectural features and Dome of Hagia Sophia from outside. © Serhat Engul

Hagia Sophia As A Mosque

Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror converted it into a mosque soon after the conquest of the Constantinople in 1453. Classical Ottoman Mosques built after the conquest was inspired by the architectural innovations of Hagia Sophia.

Hagia Sophia Corridors
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Information Panel in the outer narthex of Hagia Sophia. Depicting Hagia Sophia as a Mosque. © Serhat Engul

 Hagia Sophia Travel Guide & Visiting Information 2018

The mighty Hagia Sophia had served as Istanbul’s most respectful mosque until 1935 when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, recognizing its historical significance, made it a museum.

Although most of the building is still a museum, a room on the Topkapı Palace side was opened in 2007 as a masjid (little mosque) and call to prayer is announced from the minaret above it.

Outer Narthex Of Hagia Sophia

This is where you enter the Hagia Sophia Museum. Many people however, skip this section to walk into the heart of Hagia Sophia for obvious reason: to see the dome. I strongly recommend you to spend some time in the outer narthex to absorb the 1500 years of history.

You may have a look on the useful information panels to see the map of ancient Constantinople, reconstruction pictures of Megale Ekklesia (1st generation church) and Theodosios Hagia Sophia (second generation church) and plan of current Hagia Sophia church (3rd and last church).

There are some other information related to Ottoman Hagia Sophia or simply Ayasofya Mosque. Information panels display how it looked like as a mosque, how thebig scale restorations took place in 19th century and finally how it was converted into a museum by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk , the first president of Turkish Republic.

Hagia Sophia Outer Narthex
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Hagia Sophia Outer Narthex © Serhat Engul

Inner Narthex And Imperial Gate

The inner narthex is a great place to prepare yourself to get into the striking Naos (Center) of Hagia Sophia. You may enjoy with golden mosaic ceiling and Byantine symbols. Marbles are eye-catching too. There are nine large doors to be entered to main section. Among all these doors, imperial gate is of course most attractive one. Besides one of the best mosaic of the church (Emperor Leon VI) places over the Imperial Gate.

Hagia Sophia Inner Narthex
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Hagia Sophia Inner Narthex and Imperial Gate © Serhat Engul

Hagia Sophia Naos (Center) And Apse

This is the most exciting part. The famous Dome of Hagia Sophia, Seraphim Angels, Marble Jar, Library, Sultan’s Lodge, Muezzin’s Lodge, Mihrap (Altar) and Mimber (Pulpit) all placed in the main section. On the top of all these, magnificent mosaic of Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ placed on the top of the center. This mosaic is the oldest one in Hagia Sophia. The initial ones are destroyed by the Byzantine Emperors, during the iconoclastic period.

Hagia Sophia Altar
Center of Hagia Sophia Museum

Hagia Sophia Apse © Serhat Engul

Hagia Sophia Omphalion Coronation Stage

You may see colourful round marbles on the ground. This is where the Byzantine emperors were crowned. The marble room behind it called as Muzezzin’s Lodge. Muezzin is the person who chants from minarets.

Hagia Sophia’s Decoration
Coronation Area In Hagia Sophia: Omphalion

Omphalion Colorful Round Marbles and Muezzin’s Lodge marble room © Serhat Engul

Marble Jar Of Pergamum Antique City

As mentioned before, Ottoman Sultans paid the utmost attention, care and respect to the building. Ottoman Sultan Murad III, picked this beautiful marble jar from Pergamon antique city and ordered it to be brought to Hagia Sophia to provide refreshing water to the visitors. There is a tap on the other side. It does not function any more.

Hagia Sophia Marble Jar
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Ancient Marble Jar In Hagia Sophia Center © Serhat Engul

Six winged Seraphim Angels

Seraphim Angels are beautiful frescoes of Byzantine masters. As Islam orders no human face to be displayed in mosques, its face was covered for long years alongside with the other mosaics. There is a busy restoration work for the last couple of years. During these restorations, they revealed the face of one of the Seraphim Angels. There are totally four of them places on the corners of the dome.

Hagia Sophia Seraphim Angel
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Six winged Seraphim Angels on the pendants. © Serhat Engul

Marbles Of Marmara (Marble) Sea Used For Decoration

The architects of Hagia Sophia, Anthemius and Isidore the Elder were in rush, during the construction of the church. The maecenas, Justinian, was restless and and he wished to see his masterpiece before he dies. Architects had hard time to finish it in five years while the sword of Damocles hanged over their head.

So they had to find some practical solutions for the interior decorations. They used these elegant marbles that are brought from islands of Marmara Sea. In the old lenguage it was mentioned as Marble Sea due to its rich marble sources.

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Marble Decorations Of Hagia Sophia Church © Serhat Engul

Columns of Arthemis Temple Of Ephesus antique City

It’s beileved that architects did not produce any particular marble columns for Hagia Sophia. They recycled the columns from Greco Roman antique cities. As they also did for the Basilica Cistern.

These massive columns that are placed to the very center of the building, reported to had been brought from renowned Artemis Temple of Ephesus. Temple of Artemis was one of the wonders of the ancient world.

Hagia Sophia Columns
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Massive Columns Of Hagia Sophia © Serhat Engul

Library Of Sultan Mahmud I Of Ottoman Empire

Ottoman Sultan, Mahmud I, had built this elaborate library in order to keep religious books in it. Visitors of the Hagia Sophia mosque had used this elegant room to read Quran and feel the mystic atmosphere of this ancient temple.

Hagia Sophia Library
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Library Of Sultan Mahmud I © Serhat Engul

Empress Lodge On The Upper Gallery

Empress and the other noble ladies had watched the religious ceremonies from this lodge which is placed on the upper gallery. There is a black marble that shows where the throne of the empress exactly located. Famous queens of the history, Theodora or Zoe used the lodge of the empress for their Hagia Sophia visits.

Hagia Sophia Empress Lodge
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Empress Lodge For the noble ladies of Byzantine Empire © Serhat Engul

Marble Door On The Upper Gallery

Beyond the Marble Door had been the restricted point for visitors. There was no entrance for the public when it was a church. Patriarch of Contantinople and Emperor of Byzantine Empire made some meetings or rested after religious services.

Hagia Sophia Marble Door
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Marble Door On The Upper Gallery © Serhat Engul

Grave Of Enrico Dandolo On The Upper Gallery

Enrico Dandolo was not welcomed in Constantinople. He was the Doge of Venice and he was the commander of the Crusader armies during the fourth crusade. The Latin army led by him looted the Constantinople and established a Latin Empire to last from 1204 to 1261. Finally they left the Constantinople after 57 years of occupation but gave a great damage to the city.

Grave Of Enciro Dandolo
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Grave Stone Of Henricus Dondolo © Serhat Engul

Viking Script On The Upper Gallery

Varangian Guards were the elite troops of Byzantine Military. They were given a special mission: to protect the Emperor. They well proved their service, fighting skills and loyalty at the Battle Of Manzikert. The emperor is taken prisoner by the army of Alp Arslan, the Seljuk Empire‘s ruler. However the Varangian Scandinavian warriors which hold the center of army fought to their death, in order not to give away their emperor.

Viking Script is located on the upper gallery after passing the Marble Door on the left-hand side. As mentioned before, no public entrance to this particular area. Except for the patriarch, high-priests and personal guards of the emperor. One of these guard might had been bored during one of the meetings or such, and carved his name on the marble wall. The perfunctory written word, could be seen as ancient example of grafitti.

Viking Script By Byzantine Varangian Guard
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Viking Script by elite Varangian Guard of Byzantine Emperors. © Serhat Engul

Emperor Theophilus Bronze Door Named “Nice Door”

It’s the oldest architectural element which is dating back to the 2nd century B.C. The door is decorated with plant and geometric relief designs had been dismantled from a pagan temple belonging to the Ancient Period. The extremely heavy bronze door brought by Emperor Theophilos from city of Taurus and placed to its current location in 838.

Hagia Sophia Theophilos Door
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Emperor Theophilos Bronze Door © Serhat Engul

Ottoman Fountain Added When Hagia Sophia Was A Mosque

Muslims wash their face, hand and feet to clean up themselves before getting into a mosque to pray. This ceremonial process is called as ablution. Ottomans adorned the Istanbul with beautiful fountains. Either in the streets to provide water to people for their house needs or in the mosques for religious purposes. This nice example of Ottoman architecture, placed in the courtyard of Hagia Sophia.

Hagia Sophia Fountain
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Ottoman decorative fountain added to Hagia Sophia Mosque. © Serhat Engul

Mosaics of Hagia Sophia

Most of the 30 million tiny mosaic tiles which cover the church’s interior are covering the ceiling of the first floor. If you look carefully, you would see that the ceiling is covered with mosaics on the first floor and with frescoes on the second. The interior of the building is filled with scaffolding for the last 20 years.

Golden Mosaic Decoration Of Ground Floor

Millions of little pieces of gold to ornament the high ceiling of Hagia Sophia center and narthexes.

Hagia Sophia Mosaic Ceilings
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Mosaic ceiling of Hagia Sophia’s ground floor.

Frescoes And Paintings On The Upper Galleries

Hand painted Christian figures of Byzantine Art. Upper galleries are completely covered with these frescoes.

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Frescoes on the ceiling of Hagia Sophia’s upper floor. © Serhat Engul

You may see the most impressive examples of medieval Byzantine mosaics on Hagia Sophia’s second floor. The three famous mosaics; Deesis, Zoe and Komnenos mosaics are all located in the upper gallery.

Deesis Mosaic

Deesis stage, which is regarded as the start of renaissance in Byzantine painting, is located on the western wall of Northern Gallery. John the Baptist on the right side and Virgin Mary on the left side and Jesus Christ in the middle can be seen in the portrayal. It describes the prayer of Virgin Mary and John the Baptist to Jesus Christ for the mercy of people during the Last Judgement.

Hagia Sophia’s Deesis Mosaic
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Deesis Mosaic Of Hagia Sophia © Serhat Engul

Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan Turkish Bath

Hagia Sophia Hürrem Sultan Bath (1556) is located across the street from Hagia Sophia. The mosques were social complexes in the Ottoman time. They used to provide facilities such as Madrasa (School), Hamam (Turkish Bath), Imaret (Public Soup Kitchen) and Türbe (Tomb). Since Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque, some of these buildings added afterwards. Building is still functioning as Turkish Bath. It is the most luxurious and expensive spa-like Turkish Bath in Istanbul Old City.

Ayasofya Hamami

Ayasofya Hürrem Sultan (Roxelana) Hamamı was built by famous Ottoman architect Sinan.


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Hagia Sophia Entrance Fee 2018


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By Serhat Engül

Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) History, Information With Photos. Visiting & Travel Guide 2018

Fascinating History Of Hagia Sophia Museum was last modified: October 4th, 2017 by Serhat Engül
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