Byzantine Emperor Justinian was not actually wrong when he proclaimed “Oh Solomon, I have outdone thee”. Such is the artistic beauty of Hagia Sophia Museum. Located in the heart of Istanbul, Sultanahmet, along with other popular tourist sites such as Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia Museum is visited by more than ten thousand tourists every day. It is a truly iconic piece of history that has been preserved for more than 1500 years.
As a museum, it has one of the most turbulent histories in the world. Constructed as a Greek Orthodox Church in the sixth century on the orders of Emperor Justinian, it remained the largest church for nearly thousand years. When the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, it was turned into a mosque and remained so until the 1930s. It was Mustafa Kamal Ataturk who declared it a Museum and opened it to the public in 1935.
The massive dome is of Hagia Sophia is guarded by four minarets which were built during the Ottoman Empire. The largest door is the so-called Emperor door, which some say is made of wood from Noah’s ark. Most of the Christian Mosaics are in the upper gallery on the temple. The oldest mosaic dates back to 9th century AD. Among many, there are few ‘not to be missed’ things that you should definitely see during your visit. For instance the stunning mosaics such as the glittering 13th century Deësis mosaic of Christ with John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary and the meeting of both Islamic and Christian religions in the symbols displayed, such as the central mihrab(indicating the direction of Mecca), overlooked by as apse mosaic depicting the Virgin and child.
There is a bronze covered ‘wishing column’ in the north-west of the building which is believed to have healing powers (after Justinian leaned his head against it and his headache disappeared). Place your thumb in the hole, and twist your wrist around as you make your wish.
The Hagia Sophia Museum ticket price is 30 TL per person. It is always advised to get your ticket in advance or go with a tour guide otherwise you will have to stand up in longs queues to get the ticket. Its opening hours are Tuesday – Sunday from 9 am to 7 pm. It is closed on Sunday. You can take a tram to Sultanahmet and walk through the park to reach the museum.