Hagia Sophia is one of the major attractions in Istanbul.  If you are planning a trip to this city, the Hagia Sophia is a “must-see.”  This museum is a labyrinth of history and culture that people from all walks of life will enjoy.  Lines can get quite long, so it is best to visit the museum earlier in the day.

The History

The history of this building is quite impressive.  It was constructed in 537 AD as a Greek Orthodox basilica.  It was the seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople from 537-1553, except for the period between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted into a Roman Catholic Cathedral.  This was during the time Constantinople was under Roman rule.  Following the Greek Orthodox’s second period of power, the church was converted into a mosque.  In 1935, the mosque was officially turned into a museum, so that visitors could explore this historical site, where western and eastern religions and cultures meet.

The Museum

The museum has a lot to offer its visitors.  The entrance fee is 30TL ($15), but I would highly recommend purchasing the audio guide for an additional 20TL ($10).  This guide walks you through the museum and offers detailed information on the history and of the various sections of the museum.  There are also many local guides that will offer you a 30 minute guided tour of the museum for 70TL ($35) plus entrance fees.  Our problem with the guided tour option is that it forces you to rush through the museum and there is a chance that you will not get as much information as you would with the audio guide.

Once you enter the museum, you come upon grand hallways and a marvelous cathedral.  Christian mosaics combined with Muslim artwork and architecture demonstrate the changes of this spiritual building over the ages.  The audio tour explains all of these changes and does a nice job of putting them into context.

My favorite part of the Hagia Sophia was the views from the second level.  From this point, you can see the grand domes and archways as well as the large, beautifully decorated ground floor.  It is also possible to see the Blue Mosque from this level of the museum.

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