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"One of the world's truly great buildings" Hagia Sophia - Ayia Sofia - Ayasofya Tip by Willettsworld

This, for me, being a bit of an architecture fan, was one of the main reasons for coming to Istanbul as it is one of the world's truly great buildings. Originally built as the Church of the Divine Wisdom between AD 532 and 537, it is particularly famous for its massive 31m diameter dome, long considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and to have "changed the history of architecture." It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, until the completion of Seville Cathedral in 1520 but before this, the building was converted into a mosque when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans in 1453. The bells, altar, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels were removed, and many of the mosaics (for which it is also famous for) were eventually plastered over. The Islamic features — such as the mihrab, the minbar, and the four minarets outside — were added over the course of its history under the Ottomans. It remained as a mosque until 1935, when it was converted into a museum by Ataturk.

The present building is not the first church to have been built on the site. There were two previous churches built here - the first was known as the "Great Church" which was built in the mid-4th century. However, this was burnt down due to rioting in the early 5th century and a second church ordered by Theodosius II was inaugurated in 415. Several marble blocks from this second church have survived to the present day, and they are displayed in the garden of the current church by the entrance.

When you enter inside, the interior is quite dark which gives it a mystical feel. The dome was still being restored when I visited at the end of December 2009 which is a shame but, of course, necessary given its age. The upper gallery can be accessed via a ramp at the north-west corner and is a must-thing-to-do as it's here where you'll see all the fine mosaics which date from the 9th-13th centuries. These are in remarkable condition, thanks, in part, to the Ottomans who plastered over them when the church was converted into a mosque. A large number of mosaics were uncovered in the 1930s and have been restored. Please don't use flash when taking photos.

To sum up, the Hagia Sophia is a truly remarkable building that is a must-see-thing whilst in Istanbul. Go early to avoid the long queues outside.

Open: 9am-5pm Tue-Sun (Nov-Apr), 9am-7.30pm Tue-Sun (May-Oct). Admission: TL20.

Address: Ayasofya Meydani, Sultanahmet
Phone: +90 212 522 1750

Review Helpfulness: 3.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Written Feb 28, 2010
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