The Church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is nothing short of an architectural masterpiece which continues to attract tourists from around the world to this day. Not surprisingly, the Hagia Sophia is currently included in all of our Egypt and Turkey tours.
Originally built in 537, the Church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul was initially a Greek Orthodox basilica church. For nearly 1,000 years, the church was used as an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral. However, when Constantinople got swallowed up the Latin Empire, the church was soon converted into a Roman Catholic cathedral, and it was used as such from 1204 to 1261. Today, Hagia Sophia typically enjoys the top spot on any list of must-see Turkey tourist attractions.
From Roman Catholic Church To A Mosque
In 1453 the Ottoman Turks led by Sultan Mehmed II finally managed to topple Constantinople. The new rulers soon gave the orders for the church to be converted to a mosque. Being almost 1,000 years old at the time, the church had fallen into a state of disrepair, however, it was beautifully restored during the conversion, but many of its original Christian relics were removed in order to make way for Islamic specific features, including the addition four minarets.
It served as the primary place of worship for Muslims in Istanbul until 1616, at which point the big newly built Sultan Ahmed Mosque became the city’s main mosque.
From Mosque to Museum
In 1931, after nearly fourteen centuries of being a place of worship, the mosque shut its doors to devotees. It remained closed to the public for a period of four years and in 1935 it was officially opened as a museum. On the 10th of July 2020, Turkey’s top court stripped Hagia Sophia of its museum status, thereby allowing it to once again be used as a mosque. The decision to do has proved to be very controversial, both in Turkey and around the world.
Despite being converted back in a mosque, assurances have been given that the complex will remain open to people of all faiths apart from during prayer times. As long as it remains open to all people, we will continue to include it in our Egypt and Turkey tours.
Church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul And The Fall Of Constantinople
The battle for Constantinople was a bloody one which eventually ended with the invasion of the Ottoman Turks. In those days it was custom to allow the troops of an invading army to loot and pillage the city they had just invaded for three days, and Constantinople was no exception to the rule.
During the battle leading up to the invasion, many of the city’s inhabitants who were unable to fight, sought refuge in the Church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Unfortunately, when the city fell, the church was one of the first places to be targeted by the invading troops.
Those people who were inside seeking refuge were shown no mercy. The frail and the elderly were simply slaughtered, while most of the women and girls were raped and then chained, along with the boys, and later sold into slavery.
The church itself was severely damaged during the three days of looting and pillaging, and if it weren’t for the Sultan giving the order to convert it into a mosque, there probably wouldn’t be any Church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul today.
More Recent Repairs To Save Hagia Sophia
Repairs and conservation work has taken place several times since its conversion to a mosque. One of the most significant restoration projects took place from 1847 to 1849. During this time a team of around 800 workers were employed for the task. Mosaics were restored, chandeliers fitted, pillars straightened, and etc.
From 1997 to 2002, more major restoration work got under way, this time funded by the World Monuments Fund. The second phase of this restoration project was however only completed in 2006.
Hagia Sophia As It Stands Today
Given the age and the sheer size of the Church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, restoration work always seems to be ongoing, and it always will be if this spectacular Byzantine masterpiece is to be saved for future generations to see. J
Some people refer to it as a mosque, while others refer to it as a church, but most will agree that it’s the grandest surviving example of Byzantine architecture. You can secure your trip to the Church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul right now. Our Egypt and Turkey tours are specifically designed to feature all the very best attractions, but if you don’t see a tour you like, let us know and we’ll tailor one just for you.