Hagia Sophia: Cathedral or Mosque?

The most important monument of Istanbul that managed to survive from the Byzantine era is undoubtedly the Hagia Sophia is the most magnificent work of Byzantium. The name of Hagia Sophia means “sacred wisdom” and it is a unique place for many nations and religions. As an important symbol of Istanbul, Hagia Sophia is also on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Hagia Sophia, which was built as a monastery about 1500 years ago, is considered a sacred place for people belonging to the Christian faith. Hagia Sophia, which was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman State conquered Istanbul in 1453, is also considered as a very significant sacred place by Muslims.


This building, which has been standing for 15 centuries, is among the masterpieces of art history and the world of architecture and has become a symbol of Byzantine architecture with its large dome and it should be seen with the best examples of Byzantine mosaic art.

What Makes Hagia Sophia Different?

  • It is the oldest cathedral in the world.
  • It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years since its construction (until the construction of Seville Cathedral in Spain was completed in 1520). Today, it comes in fourth place in terms of face measurement.
  • It is the fastest (in 5 years) built cathedral in the world.
  • It is one of the structures that has been the place of worship for the longest time(15 centuries) in the world.
  • Among the “old cathedral” domes, its dome is considered to be the fourth largest dome in terms of its diameter.


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2. History of Hagia Sophia


The opening of the church was made in 360 by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine II, and the wooden roof of the church burned in 404. The church, which underwent a major repair for the first time at that time, took its current form between 532-537. It was written by Byzantine historians that it was the largest building in the world after the Egyptian pyramids at that time. Completing the mosaics inside the church was between 565-578.

Until 1204, the church survived various earthquakes and fires and was rebuilt many times. The church, which earned by the Crusaders who went to the east in 1204, was converted into the Roman Catholic Church until 1261. With the Byzantines regaining the domination of Istanbul in 1261, Hagia Sophia started to be used again as an Orthodox Church.


3. How Did Hagia Sophia Become A Mosque?


When Fatih Sultan Mehmet conquered Istanbul on May 29, 1453, Hagia Sophia was the shelter of injured Byzantine soldiers, women, and children. Orthodox continued to worship in Hagia Sophia for a few days after the Ottoman Empire conquer Istanbul. Then, Fatih Sultan Mehmet performed the first Friday prayer in Istanbul on June 1, 1453, Hagia Sophia become the symbol of the conqueror and he announced that it will be a mosque from now on under Ottoman rule. The altar and pulpit were built, the bell and the Cross were removed, and the mosaics were covered.

The first minaret was built in 1481. Due to the earthquakes that took place over the years, restorations and new minarets were built by different sultans. For this reason, Hagia Sophia’s 4 minarets built at different times are different from each other.

4. What Has Changed In The Republican Era?


Although it was used as a mosque after the declaration of the republic in 1923, Hagia Sophia was closed in 1931. The founder of the Byzantine Institute of America in 1931, American archaeologist Thomas Whittemore, a new government allowed in Turkey asked for the reemergence of mosaics in Hagia Sophia.

The work which started after the permission of President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk lasted 15 years and was completed in 1947.Sometime after the works started, it was decided to re-open Hagia Sophia as a museum with the decision of the Council of Ministers in 1934, and Hagia Sophia has opened to visitors as a museum again on 1 February 1935.

Restorations that started from time to time in different sections continue today.

Hagia Sophia that one of Turkey’s most important historical buildings; become Turkey’s most visited museum in 2015 with 3 million 425 thousand visitors.

It existed as a museum from 1935 to 2020. It became a mosque again in 2020 with the Presidential decree. On 24th of July, 2020, Friday prayers were performed again after 86 years.



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5. Legends About Hagia Sophia

Talismanic Doors


According to the legend, Hagia Sophia has a total of 361 doors, but 101 of these doors are big and talismanic. Because whenever these doors are counted, an extra door appears.



It is said that Hz. Hızır wrote the date when the date of doomsday on the column in the third row when entering through the door in the south direction of the building.

Virgin Mary’s Tear-Pierced Column


The Weeping Column inside Hagia Sophia was a column in the house of the Virgin Mary. One day people tell the Virgin Mary that Jesus was caught and tortured. When Mary heard that he has been tortured, she bursts into tears, one of the teardrops melts this pillar. To bless the church while Hagia Sophia was being built, the emperor brought this column from the house of the Virgin Mary and placed it in Hagia Sophia. For this reason, the stone is considered sacred. Those who have any wishes put their fingers in the hole formed by the tear of the Virgin Mary in this column and make wishes.

The Secret Of The Plates In Hagia Sophia


While Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque, many Islamic motifs were added to the building to make this place an Islamic temple. One of them is the verse “Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth” written on the dome of Hagia Sophia. The names of God, Muhammad, and the four great caliphs were also hanged on the plates. When Hagia Sophia was to be converted from a mosque to a museum during the Republican era, they wanted to remove these plates, but they could not remove them. Because these plates were already made inside the mosque larger than the entrance gates so that they could not be removed from Hagia Sophia and the building could not be converted back into the church.

Visiting The Hagia Sophia

You can enter Hagia Sophia for free from July 24, 2020. If you do not have a chance, you can also join the 3D visual tour with this link.




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