It was 1st of April what we have popularly known as April Fool’s Day but this day was not just any ordinary April fool’s day for me. This is the very day I got to see Hagia Sophia ticking it off from my bucket list. If I ever wanted to visit Turkey then it was for two reasons once would be to witness Friday prayers at the Blue Mosque and second would be to visit Hagia Sophia.
The moment the door of the airplane flung open, I felt the Istanbul air. It was windy and the cool breeze was hitting my face like a thousand needles. Honestly, I never expected Istanbul to be so cold in April. It was brief stopover thus I had to make most of it; I hurriedly rushed to clear immigration counter and looked out for the board with my name on it. I had booked my airport transfer shuttle to not lose even a minute trying to figure out my transport options.
Istanbul was blooming with Tulips, the highway connecting Atatürk Airport to the city had a wide divider, and almost all of them had beautiful colorful tulips. Later did I realize that Turkey and tulip are always associated with each other.
If you are traveling to Istanbul then your main stop should be at Sultanahmet Square. This is the place where you can spend a full day exploring yet you will have a lot left let to see. Out here, the two most famous buildings are located right next to each other. One would be the Blue Mosque and the other Hagia Sophia.
Short History of Hagia Sophia Museum
This building was once a Christian church then it became an Islamic mosque and finally it became a museum. The building that we now see is the actual church structure minus the four minarets. The original church built in the very place out of marble and wood in the year 360 AD during the reign of Constantius II. This first church was burnt down during the riots of 404 AD. The second church was built by Theodosius II in the year 415 AD. Remains of this old church can still be seen outside Hagia Sophia. This church was built with marble and wood, which was burnt down during the Nika Revolt of 532 AD.
The third church, which we can see now, was built on the orders of Emperor Justinian I in the year 537 AD. Hagia Sophia was an Orthodox Patriarchal Cathedral thus for a brief period between 1206 to 1261 when it was taken over by Crusaders who briefly converted it to a Roman Catholic Church.
Sultan Mehmed II the Ottoman emperor captured Constantinople in the year 1453 thus changing the future of this part of the world forever. After it was captured it was heavily looted of its wealth and finally converted into a mosque thus became one of the main mosques of this region until the construction of Blue Mosque.
Most of the Christian relics either were looted or destroyed, the walls, which once were covered by frescos plastered over, and finally, a Mihrab constructed to complete the transformation.
Things took a dramatic turn in 1935 when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first president of the Republic of Turkey converted Hagia Sophia into a museum. The frescos covered by plasters were removed and saw the light of day after centuries, the marble floor that had been covered by carpets were also removed. It became a symbol of progressive Turkey away from religious dominance.
What to See At Hagia Sophia Museum?
To enter the museum you need to purchase a ticket at the gate, which has to be paid in Turkish Lira. Alternatively, you can also book the ticket online which you can pay with your card prior to your visit. Right after you enter you will see several pieces of marble columns and other artifacts. Though these may seem unimportant in reality, these are the only surviving pieces of the second church that once stood at this very location.
Upon entering, I am sure you will be completely spellbound by the sheer size of the dome and the dark and gold ornate walls. It took me a good thirty minutes to realize that I was actually inside Hagia Sophia as I was frozen with my head locked up towards the ceiling.
You can clearly see the Mihrab pointing towards Mecca and clearly, exactly on the top ceiling, you can see the mosaic of Virgin Mary and Child (Jesus) with Archangel Gabriel to the right and Archangel Michael to the left. To the right of the Mihrab, you will be able to see the Minbar (altar). Instead of me trying to describe I guess its better you see the visuals to get a better idea of the magnificent structure.
Ticket price for adults = 40 Turkish Lira
Open Timings = 9 AM to 7 PM (15 April to 30 October) & 9 AM to 5 PM (30 October to 15 April)
Foreign national children below the age of 12 are exempted from buying a ticket except for visiting the Harlem