Hagia Sophia

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Private tour Istanbul, Hagia Sophia – a symbol of tolerance and harmony

Private tour Istanbul can help get an answer of if it is a Church? A Mosque? A Museum?

One thing is sure, though – it’s a place where religions meet. You can see Islamic art and Christian architecture blend blissfully. Hagia Sophia stands as a symbol of Istanbul throughout time. A symbol of timeless majesty!

hagia sophia guide ensar, private tour in istanbul, istanbul private tour, private tour istanbul hagia sophia, hagia sophia private tour,Visit Hagia Sophia (as the Greek know it) or Aya Sofia (in Turkish) or St.Sophia, or simply the Church of Holy Wisdom (as they call it in English) and you will find it really enjoyable for all the history, inspiration and beauty it offers.

In answer to the question if Hagia Sophia was a church, a mosque or a museum – it has been in fact all three! We will see all the answers in our city tour Istanbul.

Until the 16th century Istanbul’s most famous monument was the largest enclosed space in the world. For almost a thousand years Hagia Sophia maintained its status as the largest Christian church.

hagia sophia leon 6, private tour in istanbul, istanbul private tour, private tour istanbul hagia sophia, hagia sophia private tourBuilt at the command of Emperor Justinian in the years 532 to 537. Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a church, then became a mosque and is now a museum. It was turned into a museum by Ataturk, the first president and the founder of modern Turkey, in 1935. Justinian’s church was completed in less than 6 years and reigned as the greatest church in Christendom until the Conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

Mehmet the Conqueror penetrated the city

When Mehmet the Conqueror penetrated the city in 1453. His first official stop was to this overwhelming symbol of an empire that he had conquered. And with his head to the ground, he invoked the name of Allah and declared the great house of worship a mosque. The Christian Icons were removed and the mosaics on the walls were desecrated. And then the walls were plastered over. The Muslims then installed Arabic writings from the Koran all over the church. Four minarets were erected and the gold cross on the top of the dome removed and replaced by a brass crescent to signify that it was now a mosque. It is now as significant to Muslims as it is to Christians.

hagia sophia inside, private tour in istanbul, istanbul private tour, private tour istanbul hagia sophia, hagia sophia private tour,Keeping his promise to build a church like no other, Emperor Justinian chose the two preeminent architects of the day: Anthemius of Tralles (Aydin) and Isidorus of Miletus to build it. After 5 years and 4 months, when the construction of the Aya Sofya was completed in A.D. 537, the emperor raised his hands to heaven and proclaimed, “Glory to God who has deigned to let me finish so great a work. O Solomon, I have outdone thee!” What the two architects did, without the benefits of today’s technology, remains unequalled.

Throughout time there have been three churches built on the site.

hagia sophia private tour, georgian diplomats tour, private tour in istanbulThe first church was built in and around 300 AD during the reign of Constantius II but it was burnt down in riots in the city. The second church built on the site was subsequently burnt and destroyed again in 531 AD. The only remains of the second church – a Theodosian church, are some carved reliefs which are on display in a pit at the main entrance of the basilica.

There are three doors leading into the main church. The middle and largest doorway was for the Sultans use only. During your visit of Istanbul for private tour Istanbul, you can easily use that door to get in because we don’t have Sultans anymore. Others would have to enter by the two doors either side of the Sultans door.

hagia sophia upper gallery, private tour in istanbul, istanbul private tour, hagia sophia private tour,The Sultans doorway

Once through the Sultans doorway the sight that greets you is absolutely breathtaking. And you would have to see it yourself to believe it. Words cannot describe the beauty. This vast, massive, enormous cavernous domed church is overwhelmingly gigantic. It really takes your breath away.

The sight that brought both emperors and sultans to their knees (and it will bring you too on you private tour Istanbul) is a soaring dome that rises 56 m (184 ft.) in height (about 15 stories) and spans a width of approximately 31 m (102 ft.). Light filters through a crown formed by 40 windows and ribs, glittering with the gold mosaic tiles that cover the entire interior of the dome. At its decorative peak (including the side aisles, semi-domes, inner walls, and upper galleries), Aya Sofya’s interior mosaics covered more than 4 acres of space. At the centre of the space is a square of marble flooring called Coronation Square, believed to have been the location of the emperor’s throne, the place of coronation and therefore, in the minds of the Byzantines (or at least the emperor), the centre of the universe.

Several earthquakes and fires

hagia sophia, christianity and islam together, private tour in istanbul, private tour hagia sophiaSeveral earthquakes and fires caused cracks in the massive structure and the vast dome eventually collapsed. Only 2 years after the construction of the cathedral, an earthquake caused the dome to collapse. The new dome was slightly smaller in diameter but higher than the original, supported by a series of massive towers to counter the effects of future earthquakes. Glass fittings in the walls were employed to monitor the weight distribution of the dome; the sound of crunching glass was an early warning system indicating that the weight of the dome had shifted.

In 1204 the Ayasofya was sacked and stripped down to the bare bones by the Crusaders; a desecration that robbed the church of precious relics.

hagia sophia tour, private tour in istanbul, private tour hagia sophia,In the years that followed, several adjustments were made to the building including the covering over of the frescoes and mosaics. Due to the prohibition of Islam against the representation of figures. A single wooden minaret was erected (and later replaced by Mimar Sinan during restorations in the 16th c.), and three additional minarets were added at a later date. The altar was shifted slightly to the right to accommodate a mihrab indicating the direction of Mecca, and an ablution fountain, along with a kitchen, was erected in the courtyard.

When construction of the Aya Sofya reached the height of a man

According to legend, when construction of the Aya Sofya reached the height of a man. The construction team set out to get a bite to eat. They left their tools under the watch of a small boy. An angel appeared and urged the boy to fetch the men so that they could return to the work of building God’s house. When the boy told the angel that he promised not to leave the tools unattended; the angel promised to keep an eye on everything until his return. After leaving the site and thus breaking his promise, the boy was never allowed to return. Of course angel continues to wait for him. Legend has it that the angel grants a wish to all those who successfully complete a 360-degree circle with their thumb in the hole of this wish-worn column.

tour guide ensar, history of hagia sophia, private tour in istanbulFor almost a thousand years, the Aya Sofya was a triumph of Christianity and the symbol of Byzantium. Hagia Sophia is perfect for history and art lovers! It’s an impressive combination of Christianity and Islam.

Is it a church, a mosque, a museum? Or all three…? It is definitely a beautiful monument, a wonder of architecture, an overwhelming structure… A place where religions meet.

Don’t miss to visit, have a look, sense and enjoy the Hagia Sophia with private tour Istanbul or Istanbul tours.

I am specialist on doing tailor-made tours. Please contact us with the size of your group for a free quote with no-obligation.

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  1. I didn’t know Hagia Sophia used to be the largest Christian church. I learned it on my visit to Itanbul. I had a tour with a local guide. He told me many facts about that amazing place. And some of the facts I read in this article. It’s very good by the way:-)


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