In Photos: Inside the Magnificent Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

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Walking into the Hagia Sophia for the first time is a moment in my life that I will never, ever forget.

Nearly moved to tears as I stood, open-mouthed, at the magnificent interior of this building took me completely off-guard; I never expected a bit of ancient architecture to affect me THAT much.

But the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul did.

Hagia Sophia, Instanbul
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Built originally back in the year 537 as the cathedral church of Constantinople on the orders of the Roman emperor Justinian I, this Byzantine structure has seen the rise and fall of two empires, as well as the birth of a modern nation.

In short, the Hagia Sophia has seen more history and culture than I can even comprehend.

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For more than a thousand years, the original basilica served as the seat of the Patriarchate of the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. Then, when the Ottomans took over the city in 1453, the church was converted into a mosque, serving as Istanbul's main mosque for nearly 500 years. When the Ottoman Empire finally fell in 1931, the Hagia Sophia was closed for four years, eventually being re-opened to the public as a museum in 1935.

As you can imagine, visiting this site today is quite an interesting and fascinating experience.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
Entering the main part of Hagia Sophia

From the outside, the building's history is apparent — the large Byzantine-style dome is flanked by minarets, and, nearly every day of the week, a long line of curious tourists can be found waiting for their chance to take a peek inside.

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia on the outside
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

Inside, it gets even better.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

The Byzantine elements of Hagia Sophia are present in the interior's grand dome, its massive marble pillars, and the intricate mosaics of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, angels, and saints that were uncovered when the building was transformed from a mosque into a museum.

The dome, stretching 107 feet across, is an architectural marvel. Even though it's not the original dome from the 530s, most of it still dates from the 560s, making it nearly 1500 years old.

Columns inside Hagia Sophia
The columns come from the Byzantine architecture
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
The great dome
Hagia Sophia mosaics
Uncovered mosaics
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

But there are Islamic elements still present inside Hagia Sophia, too — like the large hanging chandeliers and round placards bearing the names of Muhammad and Allah in Arabic.

Chandeliers in Hagia Sophia
The dozens of hanging chandeliers
Arabic placards inside Hagia Sophia

It amazed me to see all these religious elements side by side – and, indeed, this is what has made this spot so special for decades.

The Hagia Sophia, for me, represented the bits about Istanbul that fascinate me the most — the history of conquest; the clash and merger of “East” and “West”; and differing religions existing side by side.

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

For anyone trying to paint Istanbul (or even Turkey for that matter) with a singular brush, I highly suggest you visit the Hagia Sophia first.

Spend an hour. Walk around. Take a seat and simply listen to the peaceful quietness. Admire the amazing beauty that cannot be attributed to one culture or religion alone.

Details inside Hagia Sophia

Then maybe you'll understand why this place moved me to tears.

READ NEXT: Discovering Hidden Istanbul

Have YOU visited Hagia Sophia? Would you want to?

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"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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21 Comments on “In Photos: Inside the Magnificent Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

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  1. I love your pictures of Hagia Sophia. Can I use 1 or 2 of them for an article I’m writing about our visit to Istanbul in 2000 which was part of a Meditterranean cruise to post in Facebook. I’m a fledgling writer and have a regular column in my school’s electronic newsletter titled: “An Adventure Called Life”.

    I am a retired radiologist and like writing and taking photographs as my hobbies. I was reading your post about how you are making money doing your blog. I have always wondered how I can earn some money doing these.



      Hi Jesse! There’s so much information online about how people make money from blogging – I even have a post all about it here: As far as using my photos, it’s fine if it’s just in a newsletter or on Facebook, but I’d prefer if you didn’t publish them on another website anywhere unless you can give me credit/link back to my site.

    It was so beautiful. But I had to wait a long long line to enter it.
    And it’s interesting to know that this used to be a Christian church.

      I was pretty lucky and didn’t really have to wait at all! I went in the later afternoon, though, so that’s probably why – a lot of people were probably already off to find dinner!

    Beautiful photos! I definitely hope to go there sometime in my life!

      Thanks, Andrea! I hope you make it there (and to Istanbul in general) sometime, too!

    Beautiful images! My most favourite building on earth, I could visit it every day. I need to return to Istanbul one day soon.

      I only had 2 days in Istanbul, but I still considered going back to the Hagia Sophia for a second time. I loved it that much!

    What an incredible building. I have never seen interior photos of it, only from the outside. I am always amazed at the level of skill historic architects had.

      Same here! It’s one of the reasons I love traveling in Europe – so much old architecture to gawk at!

    Very beautiful! I can’t wait to see it in person in a week! I’m might tear up with you ๐Ÿ˜€

    Absolutely stunning! I remember in middle school having to write about the Hagia Sophia and researching it online. That gave me a sense of awe at the time, but these photos are gorgeous. I feel like it would be quite easy to just sit there for a long time.

      I could have spent hours there. (As it was, I did spend more than an hour just walking around and staring at things with my mouth hanging open.) It’s amazing.

    Istanbul is on our summer list (along with Cairo and Jordan). We’ll be in Istanbul for 5-7? days, then down to Izmir and Selcuk to see friends, and then Cappadocia. Any super-specific Istanbul tips you might have would be welcome. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Awesome! I was only in Istanbul for about 2 days unfortunately – it was never meant to be on my original itinerary last summer! So other than the typical touristy stuff, I didn’t really do a whole lot! I did do a really cool walking tour with Urban Adventures (called “Hidden Istanbul”), though, which takes you to some touristy spots, and some not-so-touristy spots.

      Also, don’t miss the Basilica Cistern!

    What an incredible history this building has witnessed. You’ve really captured it’s grand and stoic presence in these photos, too – a great advert for Istanbul ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thanks! This is definitely a favorite set of photos for me – I loved this place so much!

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