Hagia Sophia Mosque: A Symbol of Religious Heritage

Located in the heart of Istanbul is a living testimony of its wildly fascinating past as the coveted capital city of three great empires. The Hagia Sophia, the most distinguished landmark of Istanbul, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the world’s greatest monuments. Constructed thrice in the same location, the Hagia Sophia was rebuilt from a destroyed church into its current magnificence. The Byzantine Emperor Justinian visualised the majestic structure, and the then Church of Holy Wisdom was built and was the world’s largest cathedral for a millennium.

When Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) fell to the Ottomans in the mid-fifteenth century, the Cathedral was converted into a mosque by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. Aya Sofya became the first imperial mosque of Istanbul, and then began the restoration and renovation of the Hagia Sophia Mosque. Buttresses were added to prevent collapses along with several structures, like the four minarets, mihrab, rostrum, minbar, shadirvans, madrassa, library, and imaret. All Christian symbols on the interiors were hidden away and were covered by Islamic symbols and stunning Ottoman décor.

Hagia Sophia was not a simple mosque, but a heritage of humanity that was preserved and magnified into a stunning architectural marvel. It was in 1934 that the Hagia Sophia Mosque became a ‘memorial’ museum as per the new Turkish state’s secular beliefs. A turning point in the Hagia Sophia Mosque history came again in 2020 when it was reconverted back into a mosque.

Hagia Sophia Mosque Highlights

Hagia Sophia Mosque Highlights
  • It was in the mid-fifteenth century that the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, fell to the Ottomans, and the Hagia Sophia was overtaken by the Sultan.
  • For the first time, Friday prayers were held in the structure, marking the former church as a mosque.
  • The dilapidated Hagia Sophia underwent restoration and renovation under its new rulers. Christian symbols and relics were not removed but covered up, and Islamic symbols replaced them.
  • Four minarets were added to the original architectural style in this period. Restorations in the mid- nineteenth century saw additions of huge medallions, Neo-Byzantine columns, and Ottoman marble.
  • The Hagia Sophia Mosque was established as a museum by the modern secular Republic of Turkey in 1935. After 85 years as a museum, the Hagia Sophia was reconverted back into the Hagia Sophia Mosque in 2020.

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Hagia Sophia Mosque

Hagia Sophia Mosque
  • It was in 1453, after a millennium of Byzantine rule, that the Eastern Roman capital, Constantinople, fell to the Ottoman empire. Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, the Ottoman Sultan, ushered in a new era in the long history of Hagia Sophia when he performed the Friday prayers and read the khutbah inside the structure. This act marked the official conversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

  • The ancient structure was in ruins before the fall of Constantinople, and the ransack further damaged it. As the Hagia Sophia Mosque became the first imperial mosque of Istanbul, Sultan Mehmet ordered renovations and restorations to the structure, a phenomenon that lasted throughout the four centuries of Ottoman rule. Byzantine era mosaics and cultural-religious depictions were hidden with whitewash and plaster, and the structure was extensively strengthened to prevent collapse.

  • The interiors of Hagia Sophia Mosque were renovated and re-adorned in a magnificent Ottoman style, where four large minarets and tombs of Ottoman Sultans were added to the architecture of the structure. Several additions to the ancient structure were made, like the Islamic mihrab, rostrum, and minbar, as well as a madrassa, imaret (public soup kitchen), and shadirvans (fountains for ritual ablutions), which transformed Hagia Sophia into a kulliye (social complex).

  • The restorations of 1847-49 by Swiss-Italian architects under Sultan Abdulmejid I added eight gigantic medallions adorned with calligraphy, new chandeliers, Neo-Byzantine maqsuras, and Ottoman-Rococo style marble grills. A new entrance for the Sultan, a clock building, and the Kasr-i-Humayun were also constructed in this period.

Hagia Sophia was one of the greatest architectural marvels of its time and stands today as a unique amalgamation of Byzantine Christian and Islamic Ottoman traditions. In its long past as a church and a mosque, Hagia Sophia came to include aspects from both religious traditions and is a living testimony of the violently changing fate of its city, Istanbul. Architectural styles as old as the 6th century and as modern as the 19th century can be found in perfect harmony in the Hagia Sophia Mosque.The 20th century marked another turning point in Hagia Sophia Mosque history when the new Turkish republic declared it a museum as per its modernist secular approach. The museum was reconverted, after years of demands by the Turkish people, into the Hagia Sophia Mosque in 2020.

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Hagia Sophia Mosque

Explore The Hagia Sophia Mosque

Hagia Sophia, located in Istanbul, Turkey, is an iconic mosque with a rich history. Originally built as a cathedral in the 6th century, it later became a mosque after the Ottoman Empire's conquest in 1453. The Ottomans added minarets and Islamic elements, transforming it into a symbol of Islamic architecture. Its massive dome and impressive interior adorned with intricate calligraphy and elegant decorations make it a significant cultural and religious landmark. In 1935, it was converted into a museum, showcasing its historical and artistic value. However, in 2020, it reverted to a mosque, attracting both tourists and worshipers, who marvel at its blend of Christian and Islamic heritage, and its role as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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FAQs for Hagia Sophia Mosque

Why was Hagia Sophia converted into a mosque?

    Hagia Sophia was first converted into a mosque by the Ottomans after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Hagia Sophia had been a Byzantine Cathedral, which did not hold relevance in the new empire. Hence, it was turned into a mosque as per the religious beliefs of the city’s new inhabitants. After many centuries of being an Ottoman mosque, the structure was converted into a museum in 1934 by modern Turkey. In 2020, the Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque for the second time in its history as per the demands of the Turkish people, who had been asking for rights to pray at the ancient structure.

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