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The history of St. Sophia Cathedral (an Orthodox Church of Hagia Sophia) in Istanbul

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Saint Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul is one of the recognizable symbols of the city and attracts thousands of tourists.

The Cathedral is interesting and long history: for fifteen hundred years it was a Christian Church and a mosque, and nowadays is a Museum with unique exhibits and is a monument of architecture.

Visiting Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

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Address, which is the Cathedral square, Hagia Sophia, Sultanahmet district, Fatih district, Istanbul, Turkey (Ayasofya Square, Sultanahmet Fatih/ISTANBUL). You can reach it by tram plying on the route "eminönü-Zeytinburnu", and also on any bus that goes from Eminonu to Beyazit or Sultanahmet side.

Currently, the facility operates as a Museum for the winter (1 October – 15 April) and summer (April 15 – October 1) time.

In the first case, working hours – 09:00-17:00, in the second 09:00-19:00. Every Monday and first days of Ramadan, the Museum weekend, the feast of Eid al-Adha, the Hagia Sophia is open from 13 hours.

The history of creation

The history of this Church begins approximately in 320-330 years of our era, during the reign of Emperor Constantine. Then it was a Christian Church, which over the next two centuries was rebuilt several times, although the remains of the first complex is partially preserved today.

The construction of the first temple

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Founded in the early fourth century, the temple got the name of the Martyr St. Sophia, and a little less than a century later (in 404 and 415 years), he twice almost completely burned in the fires, but each time was restored. Built on the same spot after the second fire is also a Christian Basilica stood for nearly a century, and in the year 532 was also destroyed by fire.

After that, at the behest of Emperor Justinian I began a Grand building of the new Cathedral. The work involved more than 10,000 workers, and as a material in marble, ivory, gold, silver and other expensive materials that you can find in the Empire.

Christian Hagia Sophia, the Church stayed until the XIV century, when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans.

The construction of the mosque

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On 29 may 1453, Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II formally declared the temple the mosque of Hagia Sophia. In the same year began the construction of four minarets around the Cathedral, further redevelopment was carried out: initially, the Cathedral's altar was facing East, but now it took to clean it up and move the mihrab in the Southeast corner of the temple.

Interestingly, the frescoes depicting Christian subjects was not destroyed by the Muslims and even stayed in the temple, although he was plastered.

Thanks to the plaster, these frescoes are well preserved up to the present time.

The appearance of the Museum

The mosque functioned until 1935, then because of the separation of religion and state in Turkey, the temple was abolished, giving it the building for the Museum. At the same time was undertaken the restoration of the interior, including with the frescoes was removed plaster and all decorative elements (both Muslim and remaining from the Byzantine Empire) was also restored.

Despite the fact that today St. Sophia Cathedral is one of the main and most visited attractions of the country and the capital, bringing into the city Treasury a lot of money, since the beginning of the XXI century there is an active statement, the Istanbul public figures and some politicians in favour of the Museum was closed and the Cathedral once again became a Church.

The interior of Hagia Sophia - photos

The Cathedral is thethe largest Church, built over the past several thousand years (with the exception of a few Greek temples, of which today only ruins are left). But attracts tourists Aya Sofia not these scales, unique design and rich decoration both outside and inside.

Exterior design


Options the Cathedral can be described as follows:

  • length – 100 meters;
  • width is 69.5 metres;
  • the height of the dome is of 55.6 meters from the ground level;
  • the radius of the dome is 31 meters.

In addition to the marble, which was the main construction material, the builders of the Cathedral also used special bricks made of clay and sand brought from Greece with the island of Rhodes. With its lightness, these bricks have high strength, so for seventeen centuries the Church from shrinking. From an architectural point of view the Cathedral is a rectangular Basilica of the classical type.

Under the main ground part of the building has an underground part, which is mostly flooded with groundwater. Despite this, during the restoration, managed to conduct a partial survey of underground facilities. Some of them were found jewelry and human remains, which presumably belong to a noble Muslim inhabitants of Istanbul.

Also discovered an underground passage that leads to the underground part of the other local attractions – the Topkapi Palace.

But there are still vast unexplored areas work can continue only after pumping water.

Private sponsors in 2010 agreed to Finance the work by pumping water, but despite the official agreement of the authorities while the project is not implemented.

The interior

The interior of the Cathedral there is no wall that is not decorated with a mosaic of glass, terracotta, silver or gold. Here you can also see a variety of frescoes, some of which have survived only partially, but most survived through the Ottoman plaster, which they were at the time covered.

On the right side of the entrance is a part of the floor is covered with a multicolored stone ornament. It is here that once held a ritual coronation of the emperors of Rome. Inside the Cathedral on the perimeter of the lower galleries are 104 columns in the upper gallery of their 64 – these columns were made of marble in Rome and transported to Istanbul by sea.

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The mihrabs (special exaltation in the mosques performing the same functions as the altars in the churches) was established here in the sixteenth century, but also organically fit into the overall picture and seem to be as ancient as other elements. This applies to forty lamps that reside in special niches of the dome – they came here in the first half of the XVI century. Until that moment, the room lit ordinary candles.

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Mosaics are the most valuable objects in the Cathedral.

  1. Special historical value is a mosaic image of the Mother of God.
  2. Another notable mosaics is a mosaic of the input space, which depicts a seated on the throne of Christ with the gospel in hand. This decoration appeared in the IX century, during the reign of the Emperor Leo VI.
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  4. One of the pillars of the North-West gallery is decorated with mosaics with the image of another of the Emperor Alexander. This mosaic was discovered by accident relatively recently, when carried out restoration work (this event happened in 1958).
  5. Above the door that leads to Narvik (input outbuilding of the temple), is a mosaic image of the virgin on the throne. She holds the baby, and on the left and right hand are the emperors Constantine and Justinian.

Valuable attractions of the temple

In one of the columns of the lower gallery there is a nichein which according to legend was hiding from the Ottomans, one of the priests, who in 1453 the last Christian Liturgy.

In this niche there is a hole, and according to legends if you insert the thumb and without removing it, rotate the hand 360 degrees, grant any wish (obviously, this action is impossible).

In one of the apse (recess of the altar) is the mihrab, which was placed here in the XVI century. Here stands the pulpit (a lectern, a pulpit in the mosques), which appeared in the Hagia Sofia at the same time.

Going out into the courtyard of the temple, you can see the exhibition of artifacts, items of vintage decor and other itemsthe researchers found during restorations and examination of the underground part of the Cathedral.

Other temples of the Turkish capital

In Istanbul there are two more churches that give way to Aya Sofia for the opulent and scale of the buildings, but tourists should visit these sights, as they are of equal cultural significance.

Orthodox Church of St. Irina

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This Church is part of the architectural ensemble of the Topkapi Palace. The Church of St. Irene was originally only a small Basilica, which was built in the IV century a bit before the construction of St. Sophia Cathedral.

The Church of St. Irene notorious fact that in the year 346 here faced in the struggle , representatives of different religious faiths, killing about 3,000 religious leaders and ordinary people.

Currently, the Church operates as a Museum, and from time to time within its walls exhibitions and concerts.

The Church Of St. George

The Church is named after St. George and was built in 1601. At that time the district of Fener, where was erected the Church was the only Orthodox district fallen in 1453 of Constantinople.

In 1614, the Church was partially reconstructed and expanded. In the first half of the eighteenth century a large fire substantially damaged the building, but under the patronage of Patriarch Jeremiah III in 1720 was carried out reconstruction work.

In 1738 there was a new fire, after which the Church stood abandoned until 1797, before the next restoration.

These restorative work was the last, and since then the architecture of the Church remained unchanged.

See a fascinating video about the Hagia Sophia: