Hagia Sofia: Top Things That You Can Do Here

Hagia Sofia or Aya Sofia was earlier a Byzantine church that later became an Ottoman mosque. In earlier years, it was a cathedral in Constantinople until 15th century. From 1935, it has been a museum. Hagia Sophia was the third church in the series of construction. The first one was built by Constantine the Great but was destroyed. A second one was built by his son but that too got burned in fire. The present structure was built under the guidance of the king Justinian I. The mosque was built largely in the 6th century. It is known by different names such as Sancta Sophia (Latin), Ayasofya (Turkish), and Holy Wisdom (English).

History of Hagia Sofia

After the fall of the city of Constantinople, The Turkish conquerors looted the Hagia Sofia Mosque and converted it into a mosque. The Turks renovated the structures by adding additional supports to the mosque. Two minarets were added to the structure to give it an appearance of the mosque. The mausoleums of a number of Islamic rulers were built later on. Some of the other later additions to the building were madrassa, kitchen, minbar, fountains etc.

Hagia Sofia
Hagia Sofia Mosque. Image Credit: Hagia Sophia Website

Initially, Hagia Sofia was a temple. Later on, Megale Ekklesia, which was the original structure was built at Hagia Sophia, was erected as Christian Cathedral and was commissioned under the emperor Constantine I. After Ottoman conquered Constantinople, the place was again rendered a mosque. Later on, in the early 20th century, the mosque was secularized but was later changed to a museum.

Hagia Sofia Architecture

The mosque is decorated with beautiful mosaics in marble. This basilica was the finest architectural accomplishment of Byzantine Empire. The interior of the Hagia Sofia is a 53 meters high dome that stands majestically in the center of the structure. The dome rests on pendentives that help in transition of shape of the dome from circular to square. The use of pendentives was the first ever in the history of Byzantine Empire.

Hagia Sofia Interiors
Hagia Sofia Interiors

The architectural design of Hagia Sofia is unique because of the fact that there are 40 windows that have been placed at the bottom of the dome. Two gigantic urns, originally belonging to the Greek Empire, are place in the interior. These urns are carved out of single piece. A horse-shoe shaped gallery houses a number of mosaics. Loge of the Empress is a place where the empress would sit with her lady-companions and watch the happenings of the mosque.

Hagia Sofia
Hagia Sofia. Image Credit: Hagia Sophia Website

The semi domes serve the purpose of extending the arched interiors. The inner walls of are made up of marble stone, gold mosaics and white porphyry. Since the place was worshiped by Muslims as well as Christians, a number of signs are seen cluttered in the east direction attributing them to the directions faced by worshipers while offering prayers. Another prominent feature of Hagia Sofia is mehrab made up of marble. A staircase running from mehrab leads to the sermon-giving area called minbar.

Hagia Sofia Interior
Hagia Sofia Interior

The loveliest mosaic is known by the name of Deesis; it has depiction of Christ along with Mary and John. Vestibule of Warriors is the place from where on can exit out of the museum. It is called so because at this place warriors used to keep guard while king used to offer the prayers. A mosaic depicting Justinian and Constantine offering Hagia Sofia to Virgin Mary is placed in this area.

Places to Visit

A tourist visiting this splendid monument can visit other nearby places like Grand Bazaar, Hippodrome, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Cevahir Mall, and Hagia Sofia Mansions.

Blue Mosque

This mosque carries historical significance. Every year, a number of tourists flock to this religious monument. It was built in early seventeenth century with 5 domes and 6 minarets and several sub- minarets. The mosque is named after the blue tiles and the upper part of the mosque which is painted in blue. While inside the Blue Mosque, you will see thousands of ceramic tiles covered in floral designs. Everywhere you will see Quran verses. The interiors are spacious and bright (owing to the presence of a number of stained glass windows ). UNESCO has declared it as a World Heritage Site and it has been categorized under “Historical Areas of Istanbul”. The mosque also houses tomb of Ahmed I .

Blue Mosque, Istanbul
Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Basilica Cistern

It is the largest of all the cisterns (A hundred thousand square feet in area) found in Istanbul. This basilica has been constructed underground and can carry 80k cubic meters of water. The chamber that houses this cistern is about 400 by 200 feet. The ceiling has a sturdy support of about 336 columns that have been arranged as 12 lines with 28 columns in each line. A few columns have been designed with medusa faces and that adds charm to the cistern, To go inside the cistern, one needs to down about 50 steps. This wonder of the sixth century is place worth visiting while you are in Istanbul. It is located very near to Hagia Sofia.

Basilica Cistern
Basilica Cistern
Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sofia
Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sofia

Topkapi Palace

It is a big-sized museum of Istanbul that is the center of attraction for the tourists. Earlier occupied by the emperors of Ottoman, this palace reflects the grandiose lifestyle of the Sultans. The palace has majestic courtyards and houses a number of artefacts belonging to that era. The place has several museums like The Treasury, High Court, and Audience Hall. The Palace is located not very far from Hagia Sofia.

Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia
Topkapi Palace

Shopping Options

While at Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar, you can buy from numerous shops laden with antique pieces, spices, jewelry, and carpets. Tour guides can be availed. The pick-and-drop facilities are provided. For shopaholics, you have really good options in the form of Cevahir Shopping Mall, Kanyon, and Zorlu Center. Cevahir is the biggest shopping mall here and is sprawled over 6 floors. There are about 200 shops here and also a cinema.

Cevahir Shopping Mall
Cevahir Shopping Mall

Hagia Sofia Mansions

No description of Istanbul is complete without mentioning the famous Hagia Sofia Mansions. These Mansion form a set of heritage houses that were previously the abode of rich of the Istanbul and have been converted into a luxury hotel. These mansions give the true picture of the city. The rooms are not only spacious, ornate, and colorful, they are also laced with all the modern-world amenities that one expects from a luxury hotel. Spend a few days in these famous mansions of Hagia Sofia and you would not be disappointed in the least.

Hagia Sofia Mansions on Sogukcesme Sokak Street
Hagia Sofia Mansions on Sogukcesme Sokak Street : Attribution: By Gryffindor – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2554665

The rooms are strewn with lovely colors and you will find geometric patterns everywhere., You will find a significant influence of the Turkish style. The furnishings are draped in Baroque style. The rooms are equipped with Turkish Hammam, HDTVs, free Wi-Fi, and soaking bathtubs, In some rooms, you will also find kitchenette. Enjoy spa, concierge, restaurants, and boutique. Tone yourself at the fitness center and take a bath in the indoor pool. The Hagia Sofia Mansions are located between Hagia Sofia, on one side, and Topkapi Palace, on the other, making it convenient for you to visit both. Get mesmerized with rich fabrics, decorative chandeliers, and furniture embellished with hand-made carvings.

Yesil Ev or the Green House is the main buiding where a few of these mansions are located and give a majestic view of Sultanamet (Blue Mosque). A few others are lined up at Sogukcesme Sokak Street, a small walk that will take you to the Topkapi Palace. These mansions have been named after flowers/incarnations like Hyacinth, Carnation and Rose Mansions.

Yesil Ev also carries Sofia Terrace Restaurant of the hotel and offers delightful meals. Constructed in Ottoman style, this lovely restaurant lets you have a view of Hagia Sofia while dining. You will find charming fountains at the Green House Gardeb Restaurant built in lush greenery.

Rooms are equipped with minibars and ensuite bathrooms. To add beauty to the rooms, they are adorned with hanging pendant lights and artworks.

Book these mansions at Hagia Sofia Mansions Istanbul, Curio Collection by Hilton

Types of Rooms at Hagia Sofia Mansions Istanbul

There is no dearth of options when it comes to selecting a room. You can book King Guest Room, King Super Room, King Janitor Suite, Topkapi Suite, Ottoman Suite, Hagia Sofia Suite, Hurrem Sultan Mansion, to name few. These rooms differ in sizes and prices. Hurrem Sultan Mansion is costlier and more spacious than the others (1200 square feet) and comes with a kitchenette, a Turkish bath, and a dining room. It is constructed over 3 floors and has rollway beds for six. The Ottoman suites are duplexes. The size of King rooms starts at about 300 square feet . The Topkapi suites are 656 square feet in area.

Book Mansions

The mansion may cost from as low as € 200 and as high as € 1000 , or even more. Book these mansions here.

How to Reach Here?

The nearest airport is located at about 30 km from Hagia and goes by the name Sahiba Gokcen Airport. The Istanbul Airport lies at about 34 km while Kutahya is quite far, at 90 km.

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