One of the most impressive buildings throughout the centuries, Hagia Sophia is still in must visit list of every traveler.
Hagia Sophia, called Ayasofya in Turkish, constructed in 537. Until 1453 it served as an Orthodox cathedral and remained the greatest place of worship in Christendom for almost a thousand years(until St. Peter’s Basilica was built in Rome). Soon after the conquest of Istanbul, with order of Sultan Mehmed II, it was converted into mosque and four minarets were added that changed the silhouette. Even though there are many mosques around, sultans preferred Hagia Sophia for Friday prayers for centuries. In 1935, the young, new Turkish regime proclaimed Hagia Sophia as a museum regarding its historical, cultural, and architectural importance.
During its construction, splendid building materials and architectural pieces were transported to Istanbul from ancient sites all over the Byzantium Empire, mainly from Anatolia, Syria and Egypt, by the orders of Emperor Justinianus. Construction of Hagia Sophia was finished in 6 years, that is an unbelievably short period for such a magnificent building considered to be the masterpiece of Byzantium architecture.
Hagia Sophia was decorated with shiny, golden mosaics of holy and historical figures throughout the centuries but after it was converted into a mosque, mosaics and other figures were covered with plaster because representational imagery is not allowed in Islam. From 1930 to 1950, the American Byzantine Institute undertook the labor of uncovering and conserving most of the mosaic panels that can be seen today. In spite of intensive cleaning work, some mosaics are still remain under the plaster.
Do not miss the upper gallery as you get closer to the famous huge dome, shiny mosaics and Islamic calligraphics, and you are able to look down stairs. Nothing much changed through the turning path that climbs to second floor, you may feel as you would in centuries ago.
Check out, Ancient Mega structures: Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, the National Geographic documentary about the construction of Hagia Sophia. It will help you to understand its marvelous architecture before your visit.