Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish) can be considered as the best and the most visited sights in Istanbul together with the neighboring Topkapi Palace. Hagia Sophia is a former church and museum and declared as one of the world’s greatest architectural works and accepted as the 8th wonder of the world. Built as a church in 325, Hagia Sophia was rebuilt in 537 and was converted into a mosque by Fatih Sultan Mehmet after the conquest of Istanbul in 1453.
Serving as a museum since 1935, a decree on 10th of July 2020 to formally declare the Hagia Sophia as a mosque, after Turkey’s administrative court annulled a 1934-dated decision that paved the way for the use of Hagia Sophia as a museum.
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Hagia Sophia Facts
Istanbul’s, as well as the World’s one of most visited sights. So what lies behind?
- The name “Hagia Sophia” means “Holly Wisdom” in Greek.
- First built in 325 AD, collapsed 2 times and rebuilt 3 times.
- Built in the year 532 AD, as the world’s largest place of worship.
- Converted to a mosque after Ottoman Empire’s conquest of Istanbul in 1453.
- Converted to a museum in 1935.
- A decree on 10th of July 2020 to formally declare the Hagia Sophia as a mosque.
- Declared as one of the world’s greatest architectural works.
- Accepted as the 8th wonder of the world.
What is the Hagia Sophia?
The Hagia Sophia is a historical structure in Istanbul, originally built as a cathedral, later converted into a mosque, and now serving as a mosque again. It’s a symbol of religious harmony and is famous for its stunning architecture.
Where is the Hagia Sophia?
The Hagia Sophia is located in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, Turkey, a region rich in historical landmarks.
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Who built the Hagia Sophia?
The current Hagia Sophia was built under the direction of Emperor Justinian I, with the work overseen by the architects Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles.
When was the Hagia Sophia built?
The present structure of the Hagia Sophia was built between 532 and 537 AD during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. It’s the third Hagia Sophia on the site, with the first two structures destroyed in riots.
History of Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia’s current building is the third construction and has different architectural style due to the rulers of the city.
Roman & Byzantium Period
Hagia Sophia was first constructed in 325 for the great wish and will of the Emperor Constantine to move the capital of the Roman Empire to Istanbul.
After a big earthquake in 360, the construction restored by the Emperor Constantine and called as “the Big Church (Megale Ekklesia)”.
Until the period of Byzantium Emperor Justinianos (527-565), the building had many damages due to rebellions and big fires and so restored again and again.
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And finally it is reconstructed in 5 years with the administration of the famous architects Anthemios (Tralles) and Isidoros (Miletus) under the order of the Emperor Justinianos.
Hagia Sophia has been the biggest church and constructed by the East Roman Empire and was used as a church for 916 years, as well as the place in which the emperors were crowned, until the Ottoman Empire’s conquest of Istanbul in 1453, by Fatih Sultan Mehmed.
After the conquest of Istanbul, Fatih Sultan Mehmed was converted the church into a mosque. Hagia Sophia than was used as a mosque for 482 years.
During the Ottoman Empire, the sultans gave Hagia Sophia a special value. Every effort has been made to protect and sustain Hagia Sophia, the symbol of the conquest.
Ayasofya Mosque Foundation was established by Fatih Sultan Mehmet.
The first minaret, pulpit and altar of Hagia Sophia was built with order of Fatih Sultan Mehmed. He also added a madrasah and library to the place where the building is located.
Sultan Beyazit II (1481-1512) added a mihrab of white marble and a minaret in the northeast corner.
Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566) presented the two lamps he brought from Hungary to Hagia Sophia.
During the period of Sultan Selim II (1566-1574), external retaining structures were added and strengthened by the famous Ottoman Architect Sinan to strengthen Hagia Sophia.
Sinan also made the dome extremely durable by feeding the gaps between the piers carrying the dome of Hagia Sophia and the side walls with arches.
Period of the Turkish Republic
After the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, Hagia Sophia was closed due to restoration work between 1930-1935.
In 1935, with the order of Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, and the decision of the Council of Ministers, Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum.
Hagia Sophia declared as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
The part of the Hagia Sophia (named Hunkar Pavilion) was opened for prayers for the first time in October 2016, by the Presidency of Religious Affairs.
Finally a decree on 10th of July 2020 to formally declare the Hagia Sophia as a mosque, after Turkey’s administrative court annulled a 1934-dated decision that paved the way for the use of Hagia Sophia as a museum.
First prayer was held in Friday 24, July 2020.
What to See at Hagia Sophia
on the Exterior
You’ll see Sultan Tombs, Elementary School, Fountain, Timing Room, Public Fountains, Minarets, Buttresses, Treasury Building (Skevophylakion), Almshouse.
- Dominant Domes: The central dome, rising 55.6 meters high with a diameter of 31.87 meters, is a marvel of Byzantine architecture. Surrounded by smaller semi-domes and buttressed by massive arches, it creates an imposing sight.
- Minarets: The Hagia Sophia is flanked by four minarets, each soaring into the sky. They were added during the Ottoman period and greatly contribute to the majestic silhouette of the structure.
- Courtyards and Gardens: The exterior also includes beautifully maintained courtyards and gardens that allow for a moment of tranquility amidst the hustle and bustle of Istanbul.
on the Interior
It’s like stepping into the holy world of Christianity and Islam, merged on the shell-like apse and under an impressive dome, in a mysterious and mystical ambiance, and a wide range of architectural and art works coming from thousands of years.
Such as the golden Christian mosaics and colorful frescoes from the Byzantine era. Hagia Sophia’s mosaics depict the Christian scenes.
The golden Christian mosaics we mention above are probably from the 10th century, and other famous one depicts Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
You’ll see and admire;
- An impressive Dome, Mosaics, Calligraphic Panes, Tiles, Altar, Minbar, Sultan’s Loge, Muezzin’s Loge, Omphalion, The Library of Sultan Mahmud I, Private Sections (“Maksure”), Marble Cubes, Wishing Column, Gravestone of Commandant Enrico Dandolo, Viking scripture, Doors of Hagia Sophia.
Hagia Sophia Inner Look
current look as a Mosque
while serving as a Museum
Hagia Sophia FAQs
What is so special about Hagia Sophia in Istanbul?
Hagia Sophia is declared as one of the world's greatest architectural works and Accepted as the 8th wonder of the world. It received the designation mostly because of its unique architecture that was first built in 325 AD, collapsed 2 times and rebuilt 3 times. It was world’s largest place of worship in the year 532 AD.
It was converted to a mosque after the conquest of Istanbul in 1453 during the Ottoman Empire period. Converted to a museum in 1935 and a decree on 10th of July 2020 to formally declare the Hagia Sophia as a mosque.
What does Hagia Sophia mean?
"Hagia Sophia" means "Holly Wisdom" in Greek.
What is the Hagia Sophia used for today?
It is used as a mosque. Tourists can enter and have a self guided or guided tours.
Is Hagia Sophia free?
Yes, entrance to Hagia Sophia is FREE of charge.
How much are tickets for guided tours to Hagia Sophia?
Guided tours cost around €25-30.
How long can you stay inside Hagia Sophia?
Once inside you can stay for as long as you like. You should allow about 1,5 hours for visiting the Hagia Sophia to have a detailed look at the architecture, mosaics, construction, the imperial dome, upper galleries, etc.
What is the best time to visit Hagia Sophia?
Hagia Sophia is open for 24 hours and every day of the week. The best time to visit the Hagia Sophia is the morning period from 09:00 to 12:00, which is the quietest slot as it is a mosque and you can find crowds on the prayer times.
Visiting Hours & Admissions
Open every day
* Entance to Hagia Sophia is FREE of charge
What Are The Best Hagia Sophia Guided Tours?
Guided tours enrich your visit to the Hagia Sophia by providing expert insights and fascinating stories about this historical wonder. Here are some popular guided tour options:
- Historical Tour: Learn about the construction, transformations, and historical context of Hagia Sophia from a knowledgeable historian.
- Skip-the-Line Tour: Get exclusive priority access and avoid the hassle of waiting in long queues.
- Combined Tours: These include a visit to the Hagia Sophia, along with other notable landmarks such as the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and Basilica Cistern.
Visiting Hagia Sophia Tips
* Muslims and non-Muslims are all allowed to enter Hagia Sophia.
* There is no entrance fee when entering Hagia Sophia.
* You should remove your shoes before entering the carpets of the mosque.
* You are kindly requested to show respect to daily five prayers (check prayer times from here) in the mosque, not to make so much noise, not to run and stand in front of the people praying.
* Some parts of the mosque used by prayers are temporarily closed to the visitors on Friday worship at noon, as not to disturb.
* Women should wear a head covering when entering to Hagia Sophia. You are able to find head scarves at the entrance free of charge.
* Taking photos are allowed, however you should not take the photos of the people praying.
* Guided tours are made and highly recommended as Hagia Sophia has a history coming from thousands of years. As there is no entrance fee, guided tour prices dropped down.
* Better to know the each detail and story, and have a detailed look at the architecture, mosaics, the imperial dome, upper galleries and the decoration from the past and today with a guide.
* Plan at least 60 minutes for the visit. However, 90 minutes much better.
* Visit during the daylight, better in the morning, as natural light inside will make you admire the interior much better.
* Keep an eye out for unofficial guides (guides should have official badge on).
* Don’t pay attention, look in the eyes, and talk with beggars, in addition, people coming beside and ask for helping with guidance around or for money.
* Avoid weekends & Friday prayer at noon if possible, as it will be more crowded with the locals.
* Try the Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi for lunch (about 150 mt. from Hagia Sophia), a popular and historical restaurant famous for its traditional meatball dish and dessert made of semolina. See location map.
* Check the weather forecast and plan your day for the sunniest one if possible.
This is the best option we recommend especially for first time visitors. And we always recommend opting for an extended English guided tour offered exclusively by several historian guides of Istanbul.
When you book you’ll get an email confirmation with meeting details (in front of the Hagia Sophia) and there your name being checked from the official guide’s list with your confirmation number.
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How to Get to Hagia Sophia?
The most practical way to get to Sultanahmet is via Bagcilar-Kabatas tram (T1 line).
- The closest tram stop is Sultanahmet.
- Sultanahmet Square and most of the connecting roads are closed for vehicle traffic except tram and tour buses.
- From Taksim, take the funicular to Kabatas (from taksim Square) or funicular to Karakoy (from Tunel square) and than take the tram.
- If you stay at the Sultanahmet hotels, than you easily walk to the museum.
Check our Sultanahmet page to see how to get to Sultanahmet in details.
Address: Sultanahmet Square, Fatih, Istanbul
Tel: +90 212 522 17 50