Hagia Sophia

Built in 537 by the eastern Roman emperor Justinian I, Hagia Sophia has served as the largest Christian church of the eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire) and the Eastern Orthodox Church, a Latin Catholic cathedral during the Latin empire (from 1204 to 1261), and a mosque, after the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453. From its initial conversion into a mosque, until the 1616 construction of the Blue Mosque, it was the principal mosque of Istanbul. In 1931, the mosque was closed to the public for four years. It was re-opened in 1935 as a museum by the secular Republic of Turkey. However, in 2020, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the re-classification of Hagia Sophia as a mosque, a decision which drew condemnation from the UNESCO and several other international organizations.

Hagia Sophia is famous for its architecture, works of art, and the mausoleums of several Ottoman sultans. Some of its most renowned architectural features are its Imperial Gate, Beautiful Gate (Splendid Door) and Marble Gate. Inside, the building has 104 columns, some of which are brought from ancient cities. In addition to its awe-inspiring architectural design, the monument is also famous for its gold and silver-plated, glass, terracotta and colored stone mosaics, and 6th century ceiling mosaics with floral and geometric motifs. Some of the most famous mosaics are of the Mother Mary depicted with child Jesus in her arms, the Archangel Gabriel and the Archangel Michael and Deisis.

Non-Muslims are allowed to enter Hagia Sophia, however, visitors should avoid visiting at prayer times (five times a day). Visitors should also remove their shoes before stepping onto the mosque’s carpets, and women should wear headscarves. Photography is permitted, thought taking photos of people who are in the mosque to pray is not allowed.


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