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Hagia Sophia

From The Taksim Hotel
19 Min
1 hour
Exterior of the Hagia Sophia Mosque

The best of Byzantine architecture is on full display at the Hagia Sophia Mosque (known in Turkish as Ayasofya). Located in the historic center of Istanbul, Hagia Sophia is one of the world’s greatest cultural and historical sites, representing more than a millennium of civilization.  

Commissioned in 532 by Emperor Justinian, a ruler of the Byzantine Empire, it was initially a Christian cathedral. When it was consecrated in 537, the structure had the most interior space of any building in the world. Its architecture would be copied for the next thousand years and more, a symbol of the height of the Byzantine Empire. After Constantinople — now known as Istanbul — fell to the Ottomans in the 15th century, the cathedral was converted into a mosque by Mehmed the Conqueror, the Ottoman sultan. In 1935, Hagia Sophia became a museum, though it was converted back into a mosque in 2020. 

Hagia Sophia has borne witness to nearly 1,500 years of human history; standing through the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the Crusades, the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire, the formation of the Republic of Turkey, and much more. It is a testament to humankind’s great power yet fleeting existence. Grand, awe-inspiring, and beautiful, this audacious structure is one of the most fascinating destinations in Turkey. 

Inside of the Hagia Sophia Mosque


Hagia Sophia was one of the first structures in the world to use a pendentive dome (a type of architectural support that allowed the dome to sit upon a rectangular structure). That was just one of the facets that made the then-cathedral such a marvel; notably, it was the largest cathedral in the world until Spain’s Seville Cathedral was completed in the early 1500s.  


Hagia Sophia’s dome was the largest in the world, too, until the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica in Venice in the 17th century. The original collapsed during an earthquake soon after its initial construction and it was immediately reconstructed; over the intervening 1,500 years, parts of it have been replaced. The top of the dome is more than 58 meters above the ground, and a series of windows at its base let light filter through the entire space.  

Upper Gallery 

The horseshoe-shaped Upper Gallery was initially reserved for the Byzantine Empresses; it is home to the best artwork in the entire structure. Though it is currently closed for renovation, the Upper Gallery is where you will find the Emperor Constantine and Empress Zoe mosaics.  


The heart of Hagia Sophia is known as the nave, or the main prayer hall. Enclosed by the soaring dome, decorated with a fusion of Christian and Islamic design, the nave is an absolutely splendid space. This is where worship occurs during prayer hours. All around its walls are early Christian mosaics, but the mosque’s apse is heralded by a mihrab, a niche that points towards Mecca.  

How to Visit  

Though currently a working mosque, Hagia Sophia is still open to visitors. Make sure to dress respectfully when inside, which means women must cover their hair and wear long pants or skirts; men, too, should wear long pants. Skirts and scarves are available to rent, if you don’t have any. 

For those interested in touring this relic of the Byzantine Empire, it is open from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm, with exceptions throughout the day for prayer hours. You may still be able to visit while worship is in session, though you will not be able to enter the nave. For more information on daily prayer times, visit this link 

Revel in the breadth of history with a visit to Hagia Sophia Mosque.  

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