There are more ancient mosques in Istanbul than you could count, but it’s the Hagia Sophia that stands out as the jewel of Istanbul.
It’s no longer an active mosque and operates as a museum, so you don’t have to worry about any religious services going on during your tour.
Though I refer to the Hagia Sophia as a mosque, it actually started its life out as a Greek Orthodox basilica. Built originally in 360, the original construction was destroyed a few decades later. The building that stands today still dates back to 532 which makes it a wonderfully ancient site. The Ottomans took the city in 1453 (it was Constantinople back then) and converted the church into mosque.
Of course, that’s just a tiny history of the grand Hagia Sophia and you can learn more about its storied past when you visit.
The central part of the complex is a huge domed chamber, filled with columns, archways and mosaic murals. The Hagia Sophia is considered to be one of the greatest examples of Byzantine architecture in the world. Whatever label you wish to use, it’s a stunning work of art at every turn.
Walls and ceilings are decorated in delicate tiled mosaics, showing images of ancient Christianity and Islam, many dating back to the time the building was constructed. You won’t believe the colors.
Decorations within the building include several carved marble urns, elaborate gates between rooms and a lovely upper-story gallery that opens out over the main nave area.
Outside the main building, there are 4 slender minaret towers that mark this as an Islamic site. Three are built from white limestone but one is a darker red brick. The central dome itself reaches 180 feet above street level, dominating the skyline in this part of old Istanbul.
In 1935, the entire construction was turned into a museum due to its importance in the worlds of history and art. A lot of restoration has gone on, to bring all the mosaics back to their original vibrant life.
If you only see one thing while in Istanbul, make sure it’s the Hagia Sophia. It’s a very unique place that shows ancient beauty in architecture and artwork, as well as a mix of religious and cultural history at the same time.
Visiting the Hagia Sophia:
Location: in the Sultanahmet Old Town quarter, very near the Topkapi Palace
Hours: Open for visitors every day except for Mondays. Hours vary by season, but generally is open at 9am until early evening.
Cost: 25 Lira