Hagia Sophia Museum | A Cultural Time Capsule Unveiled

Constructed on the orders of the sixth-century Byzantine emperor Justinian, the Hagia Sophia stands as the greatest surviving example of Byzantine architecture today. The magnificent structure, once the world’s largest cathedral, symbolises Istanbul’s composite history as the capital city of three great empires. The Hagia Sophia was built as a cathedral by the Byzantines, converted into a mosque by the Ottomans, then converted into a museum by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and finally reconverted into a mosque in 2020.

The Hagia Sophia Museum was initially in a dilapidated condition due to fatigue and its location on a fault line that made it prone to several earthquakes over the centuries. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s first action plan was to remove the bright red carpets from the floor of the Hagia Sophia and reveal the Justinian-era mortar layer underneath. The floor, which created the illusion of flowing water, was further adorned with marble embellishments like omphalos. The whitewash and plaster covering the Byzantine mosaics were also peeled off.

Due to the continuous deterioration of the Hagia Sophia Museum’s roof, floor, and walls, it was listed on World Monuments Watch in 1996 and on World Monuments Fund in 1998. The first stage included stabilisation and reconstruction of the cracked roof, while the second stage included the preservation of the dome’s interiors and mosaics.

Hagia Sophia Museum Highlights

Hagia Sophia Museum Highlights
  • The Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum in 1934 by the founder and first President of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. In 2020, it was converted into a functional mosque.
  • Constructed by the Byzantine emperor Justinian as an Orthodox Christian cathedral in the sixth century, the Hagia Sophia has a ‘floating’ dome. The colossal marvel of Byzantine architecture is supported by two semi-domes and transforms from a circular structure to square piers underneath.
  • The interiors of Hagia Sophia show both Byzantine Christian and Ottoman Islamic influences. The marble slabs on the floor of the Hagia Sophia Museum create an illusion of flowing waters, while the Byzantine mosaics and artistic elements are complemented by Ottoman calligraphy and eight gigantic artistic medallions.
  • The Hagia Sophia Museum has several priceless art and historical treasures hidden, like the tombs of Ottoman Sultans and stone cannonballs used by Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror.

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Current Status of Hagia Sophia Museum

Current Status of Hagia Sophia Museum

The Hagia Sophia Museum remained in existence for more than eight decades. As the most legendary structure lining the Istanbul skyline, it became one of the world’s most visited attractions. It was in the 2010s, however, that local Turkish citizens, organisations, and even the various ruling governments began to demand the Hagia Sophia be reconverted back into a fully-functional mosque. In 2016, prayers were officially offered for the first time in the Hagia Sophia Museum. The demands grew, and in 2020, the Hagia Sophia was officially reconverted back into a mosque after almost a century of being a museum. Visitors are still allowed to visit the Hagia Sophia irrespective of their religious backgrounds.

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FAQs for Hagia Sophia Museum

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    The Hagia Sophia Museum was reconverted back into a fully-functional mosque in 2020 as per the demands of Turkish citizens. Visitors are still allowed to visit the Hagia Sophia for non-religious purposes.

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