Hagia Sophia and the Süleyman Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia Great Mosque. Changes since 2020

The former cathedral and now the Hagia Sophia Mosque ( Turkish for Ayasofya ) can be considered the most famous and most visited landmark of Istanbul along with the neighboring Topkapi Palace . Hagia Sophia is a former church and former museum which has been declared one of the greatest architectural works in the world and is recognized as the eighth wonder of the world.

Built as a church in 325, Hagia Sophia was rebuilt in 537 and converted into a mosque by Sultan Fatih Mehmet after the conquest of Istanbul in 1453.

It had been a museum since 1935, but by a ruling of Turkey’s administrative court on July 10, 2020, it was once again officially declared the Hagia Sophia Mosque. Erdoğan reversed the 1934 decision to use the Hagia Sophia Cathedral as a museum.

The official name is now the Great Mosque of Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya-i Kebir Cami i. Although by size the largest mosque in Istanbul is the Çamlıca Mosque (Erdoğan Mosque).

Since August 24, the entrance to the building is free (previously it cost 100 liras or by museum pass ). Tourists can visit the Ayia Hagia Sophia as well as the Blue Mosque for free as long as they follow all the rules for visiting Muslim temples. It is forbidden to enter only during prayers. It is better to clarify the times of prayers on the official website or on the website of the prayers.

Hagia Sophia Mosque.

Facts about Hagia Sophia Cathedral

  • The name “Hagia Sophia” means “holy wisdom” in Greek.
  • It was first built in 325 AD, destroyed 2 times and rebuilt 3 times.
  • It was built in 532 A.D. as the biggest religious building in the world.
  • It was rebuilt into a mosque after the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottoman Empire in 1453.
  • In 1935 it was converted into a museum .
  • On July 10, 2020, it was officially declared a mosque .
  • It is considered one of the greatest architectural works in the world.
  • Accepted as the 8th wonder of the world.
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History of Hagia Sophia

The current Hagia Sophia building is the third structure and has a distinctive architectural style.

Roman-Byzantine period.

Hagia Sophia was built in 325, in accordance with the great desire and will of Emperor Constantine to move the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople.

After a strong earthquake in 360, the structure was rebuilt by Emperor Constantine and called the “Great Church (Megale Ekklesia)”.

Until the period of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527-565) the building was damaged many times by uprisings and major fires, and so it was rebuilt over and over again.

Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque. Changes from 2020

Finally, the cathedral was reconstructed in 5 years by order of Emperor Justinian under the direction of the famous architects Antemias (Trall) and Isidore (Miletus).

Hagia Sophia was the largest church in the world during the period of the Eastern Roman Empire and was used as a church for 916 years until the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottoman Empire in 1453 by Fatih Sultan Mehmed. It was also the place where the emperors were crowned,

Ottoman period

After the conquest of Constantinople, Sultan Mehmed Fatih turned the church into a mosque. Hagia Sophia Cathedral was used as a mosque for 482 years.

During the Ottoman Empire, the sultans gave the Cathedral of St. Sophia special importance. Every effort was made to protect and maintain Hagia Sophia Cathedral as a symbol of conquest.

  • The first minaret, pulpit and altar of Hagia Sophia were built by the order of Fatih Sultan Mehmed. He also added a madrasah and a library to the site 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) donated two lamps that he brought from Hungary to the Hagia Sophia Cathedral.
  • During the reign of Sultan Selim II (1566-1574), the famous Ottoman architects Sinan added external retaining structures to strengthen the building.
  • Sinan also made the dome extremely strong by filling in the gaps between the supports supporting the Hagia Sophia dome and the side walls with arches.
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Period of the Turkish Republic

After the formation of the Turkish Republic, Hagia Sophia Cathedral was closed for restoration work between 1930 and 1935.

In 1935, by the order of Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, and by decision of the Council of Ministers, Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum.

Hagia Sophia Cathedral was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.

The part of Hagia Sophia Cathedral (called Hunkar Pavilion) was first opened for prayers in October 2016 by the Directorate of Religious Affairs.

A decree dated July 10, 2020 , officially announced the conversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque , after the administrative court of Turkey annulled a 1934 decision that approved the use of the Hagia Sophia as a museum.

The first prayer was held on Friday July 24, 2020.

What to see in Hagia Sophia Cathedral

In the exterior.

  • Sultan’s tombs,
  • Elementary School,
  • Fountain,
  • The Room of Time,
  • Public Fountains,
  • Minarets,
  • Counterforts,
  • The Treasury Building (Skevofilakion),

Hagia Sophia Great Mosque

In the interior.

It’s like entering the sacred world of Christianity and Islam, merged on a shell-like apse and under an impressive dome, in a mysterious and mystical atmosphere with a wide range of architectural and artistic works from thousands of years ago.

For example, golden Christian mosaics and colorful frescoes from the Byzantine era. The mosaics of Hagia Sophia depict Christian scenes.

It’s not a fact that they won’t be closed forever now. Today they are closed only for the time of namaz.

Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque. Changes from 2020

The golden Christian mosaics we mentioned above are probably from the 10th century, and another famous mosaic depicts Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

You will see and admire it;

  • Impressive Dome,
  • Mosaic,
  • Calligraphic panels,
  • Tile,
  • Altar,
  • Minbar,
  • Sultan’s Box, Muezzin’s Box,
  • Omphalion,
  • The Library of Sultan Mahmud I,
  • Private Sections (“Maxure”),
  • Marble Cubes,
  • The Column of Wishes,
  • Tombstone of Commandant Enrico Dandolo,
  • Viking Runes,
  • The Gates of St. Sophia.
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Hagia Sophia Cathedral – interior view

Current view as a mosque

Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque. Changes from 2020 Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque. Changes from 2020

When it was a museum

Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque. Changes from 2020 Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque. Changes from 2020

The frescoes and mosaics depicting Christian saints were covered with curtains, shields or a curtained ceiling, and the ornaments on the floor were covered with carpets. Some coverings are removed when there are no services in the building, but some of the images have become completely inaccessible to visitors.


When the cathedral was a museum:

Hours of operation and price

Hours of operation

Open every day

Ticket price

Free! There is no entrance fee to Hagia Sophia Cathedral.


* You must remove your shoes before entering the carpets of the mosque.

* Please be respectful of the daily five prayers in the mosque, do not make so much noise, do not run or stand in front of those praying.

* Some parts of the mosque used for prayers are temporarily closed to visitors during the Friday noon service.

* Women should wear head coverings at the entrance to Hagia Sophia Cathedral. At the entrance you can receive headscarves free of charge.

* Photographs are permitted, but no pictures should be taken of those praying.

* Guided tours are available and highly recommended because the history of Hagia Sophia goes back thousands of years. Now that there is no entrance fee, tour prices have dropped. It is better to learn every detail and history and explore the architecture, mosaics, soaring dome, upper galleries and decorations from the past and present with a guide. Tour links can be found below.

* Plan to visit for at least 60 minutes.

* Plan your day with Topkapi Palace and the Basilica Cistern as they are within walking distance of Hagia Sophia Cathedral.

* Visit the mosque in sunlight, preferably in the morning, as the natural light inside will make you admire the interior much better.

* If possible avoid visiting the Hagia Sophia during midday prayers on weekends and Fridays as there will be more people there.

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* Try Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi for lunch (about 150 meters from Hagia Sophia Cathedral), a popular historic restaurant known for its traditional meatballs and semolina desserts.

* Check the weather forecast and, if possible, schedule a visit for the sunniest day.

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