Hagia Sophia is among the most popular historical artifacts in Istanbul. Hagia Sophia, which has served as a museum for many years, was converted into a mosque again in 2020. Thus, Hagia Sophia entrance fee and opening hours have also changed.
Hagia Sophia is located in Sultanahmet, Istanbul’s most touristic district. This 1500-year-old historical monument is visited by an average of 3 million people annually. In this article, you can find the details you need to know when visiting Hagia Sophia.
Useful Information About Hagia Sophia
You can find useful information about Hagia Sophia in the following lines. As a private tour guide in Istanbul, I tried to bring together the things that visitors are most curious about.
1. When Was Hagia Sophia Built?
Hagia Sophia was built as a church in 537. It was the most important church of Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. It was built for Justinian, the most famous emperor of Byzantium, by two architects named Anthemius and Isidore.
2. Why Is Hagia Sophia So Important?
Hagia Sophia was a revolutionary building considering the early church architecture. Roman churches were modeled after the Basilica, an ancient Roman structure. There would be no flashy domes in these structures.
Hagia Sophia was the first Roman church to have a giant round dome. It was only during the Renaissance that domes of this size were built in Europe. Hagia Sophia had achieved this 1000 years ahead. Therefore, Hagia Sophia is very important in world architectural history.
3. When Did Hagia Sophia Become a Mosque?
Hagia Sophia became a mosque in 1453 when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople. Hagia Sophia, which served as a mosque until the 1900s, remained a museum for about 90 years during the republic period.
Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque again with a decision taken in 2020. For this reason, there is no longer a need to buy tickets at the entrance. Anyone can worship in it or visit it to explore the building.
4. How Much is Hagia Sophia Entrance Fee?
The entrance fee to Hagia Sophia was 100 Turkish Liras before it was converted into a mosque. However, you no longer have to pay at the entrance. Hagia Sophia visit is free like other mosques in Istanbul.
After visiting Hagia Sophia, you can visit the adjacent Sultan Tombs free of charge. The interior decoration of these mausoleums carries works from 16th century Ottoman architecture. Especially the ceilings decorated with Iznik tiles and wooden works inlaid with mother-of-pearl are worth seeing.
5. What Day is Hagia Sophia Closed?
When Hagia Sophia was a museum, it was closed on Mondays. This information still exists in un-updated guidebooks, but is no longer valid. Hagia Sophia is open every day of the week.
6. Hagia Sophia Opening Hours 2023
Hagia Sophia opening hours are between 10:00 in the morning and 22:00 in the late evening as of 2023. However, since it is a mosque, it is partially closed to touristic visits during prayer hours.
As of January 2023, Hagia Sophia does not completely close during prayer hours. In the middle of the mosque, there are barriers separating the prayer section, and if you visit Hagia Sophia during prayer hours, you cannot cross these barriers.
Istanbul mosques, including the Blue Mosque, do not accept touristic visits to the indoor section during prayer hours. However, we see that this rule is not applied with a strict discipline in Hagia Sophia.
In this case, you can visit Hagia Sophia during the day (within the specified time frame for the touristic visit). However, if you go during worship hours, your experience will be limited as you cannot go to the center of the main space.
During your visit to Hagia Sophia, I recommend you to join a guided group tour so that you can get inside more easily and learn the history of Hagia Sophia from a professional. You can reserve your place in the guided tour from this link.
You can see long queues at the entrance of Hagia Sophia. This is because visitors are admitted in groups. Even if you are at the end of a queue that seems very long, you can enter in a short time when the entrance of the mosque opens to the next group.
How Can I Know the Prayer Times of Mosques in Istanbul?
You can follow the opening and closing times of mosques (including Hagia Sophia) in Istanbul from the table on this link. Mosques are usually closed for prayer 1 hour before the prayer and opened 30 minutes after the prayer.
For example, if we assume that the noon prayer is at 13:00, the mosque will close at 12:00 and open at 13:30. The best time to visit Hagia Sophia is 3 hours after it opens at 09:00 in the morning.
All mosques in Istanbul can be visited uninterruptedly from 09:00 in the morning until 11:30. If you make your plan accordingly, the visiting hours, which constantly change according to the hours of worship, will not affect you.
7. How to Get to There?
In order to get to the Hagia Sophia from Taksim Square, you can first take the Funicular F1 to Kabatas. Funicular F1 is inside the metro station in Taksim Square.
You can take Tram T1 from Kabatas Tram Station to Sultanahmet. This journey will take approximately 15 minutes. During the tram ride, you will see touristic places such as Galata Bridge and Spice Bazaar.
In order to get to the Hagia Sophia from Sultanahmet, it is enough to find well-known spots such as Sultanahmet Square or Sultanahmet Tram Stop. With its distinctive architecture, Hagia Sophia will be in your view from these points.
8. Are the Mosaics in Hagia Sophia open?
Yes, the mosaics in Hagia Sophia are open. Hagia Sophia mosaics are covered only during prayer times and are opened for visitors to see during the rest of the time.
The mosaics inside Hagia Sophia are dated between the 9th century and the 13th century. It reflects the religious art of the Byzantine Empire. You can also review this post for more information on these mosaics. (You can find the history and photos of each mosaic in detail in this article)
The Latest Situation of Hagia Sophia Mosaics
As of January 2023, the mosaics on the lower floor can be seen. As an exception, “the Virgin and the Child mosaic” in the main space is covered with a curtain. (The blue mosaic at the very back in the above image.)
The mosaic above the Emperor’s Gate on the ground floor (Mosaic of Emperor Leo VI in the foreground in the above image) and the Mosaic of the Great Emperors (Constantine and Justinian) on the exit gate can be seen.
On the other hand, the upstairs gallery is closed for renovations. In this case, the Christ Pantocrator (Deesis), the Komnenos Family Mosaic and finally the Empress Zoe Mosaic cannot be seen.
9. How to Take a Guided Tour?
You can make a reservation from this link to take a guided tour of Hagia Sophia. Tours are organized under the guarantee of GetYourGuide, an international travel platform.
Participants of this tour meet with their guides at the entrance of Hagia Sophia and enter quickly. If you tour with a guide, you will discover many things that you could not learn by yourself.
10. Where to Stay in Sultanahmet
Sultanahmet district, where Hagia Sophia is located, is full of beautiful boutique hotels. There are many historical buildings that have been converted into hotels with the restoration of Ottoman mansions.
In order to decide where to stay in Sultanahmet, you can check out the best hotels in Sultanahmet post. Sultanahmet is also the place where traditional Turkish cuisine is best represented in Istanbul. The best restaurants in Sultanahmet post can help you find the best cafes and restaurants in the area.
Written by Serhat Engul