Aya Sofia of Istanbul

Planning a trip to Istanbul? Make sure you visit one of Istanbul’s oldest and beautiful buildings: The Aya Sofia.

Origins of Aya Sofia

The Aya Sofia or “Church of Divine Wisdom” was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the sixth century as a monument to Christianity and the rise of the eastern Roman empire. The Aya Sofia remained for centuries the biggest church in the world only being surpassed by the church of St Peter in Rome several centuries later. The Aya Sofia is a spectacular feat of architecture especially considering the limited building methods that were available at the time of construction. Only the best materials were used for building the Aya Sofia, including marble walls and flooring and gold wall and ceiling decorations. The distinguishing feature of the Aya Sofia is the vast dome surrounded by several semi domes set high, designed to give the visitor an impression of the greatness of God. Unfortunately due to the earthquake line that Istanbul is on, it took only a few years before the original Aya Sofia building was damaged and over the centuries it has been repaired several times. Even today there are on going repairs or restoration taking place.

Aya Sofia under Ottoman rule

The Aya Sofia was turned into a mosque under Sultan Mehmet after taking control of Istanbul from the Byzantines. The Aya Sofia remained a mosque for hundreds of years and several artefacts of Muslim influence are still visible in the Aya Sofia today such as the large calligraphy inscribed medallions hung from the walls bearing the names of Islam’s early leaders. Several tombs of the Ottoman Sultans and royals are also situated in the outside courtyard of the Aya Sofia. However despite centuries of Muslim rule the Christian origins of the Aya Sofia are still very much present today.

Aya Sofia Today

The Aya Sofia was officially turned into a museum in 1935 by Ataturk and is now open to visitors of all faiths year round. The Aya sofia opens its doors at 9:30am and stays open until 4:30pm every day except Mondays. Guided tours are available although many visitors prefer to walk around at a leisurely pace soaking up the unique atmosphere of Aya Sofia. The Aya Sofia is full of paintings of Christian saints which are visible on the walls and semi domes situated around the main dome in the centre of Aya Sofia which carries a painting of Jesus.

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