The brand new Hagia Sophia History Museum stands as a captivating and innovative institution in Istanbul, meticulously recounting the narrative of Hagia Sophia from its inception to the present day. It was inaugurated in July 2023, located right at the heart of Istanbul’s old town (Sultanahmet) along the ancient Hippodrome, a quick stroll from the actual Hagia Sophia.
About Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia, initially a church in Istanbul, Turkey, underwent a transformation into a mosque (after Constantinople‘s conquest in 1453) before ultimately becoming a museum after the establishment of modern Republic of Turkey in 1923.
The 2020 decision by Turkish government to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque once again created controversy worldwide. Irregardless of how the building is utilized today, Hagia Sophia truly represents one of the Byzantine Empire‘s most remarkable architectural feats and holds immense significance in Christianity’s history.
However, serving as a mosque for most of the last five and a half centuries, Hagia Sophia has also left an indelible mark in the collective consciousness of the muslim community around the world.
The spectacular architecture of Hagia Sophia
The architectural singularity of Hagia Sophia is manifested in its colossal dome, anchored by four pendentives situated at each vertex of the cathedral’s square foundation. This innovative design permitted the construction of a dome surpassing the dimensions of its predecessors, evoking awe and wonder among the devotees who ventured inside.
The dome of the Hagia Sophia, completed in 537 AD, remained the largest cathedral dome in the world for nearly a thousand years until the completion of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Florence Cathedral) in Florence, Italy.
The dome of Florence Cathedral, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, was completed in 1436.
It is 44 meters (144 feet) in diameter, compared to the 31 meters (102 feet) diameter of the Hagia Sophia’s dome.
Therefore, it took approximately 900 years for Europe to build a cathedral with a dome that matched or exceeded the size of the Hagia Sophia‘s dome.
Hagia Sophia History Museum
The newly-opened, start of the art museum harbors an array of artifacts associated with Hagia Sophia, encompassing architectural fragments, mosaics, sculptures, and manuscripts. These exhibits are methodically organized into four distinct segments: the Cathedral, the Mosque, the Museum, and the Mosque again.
Different sections of the experience
The Cathedral segment displays relics from the era when Hagia Sophia functioned as a Christian cathedral, including the apse mosaic of the Virgin Mary and Child, and the iconostasis. The Mosque segment showcases items from the period when it served as a mosque, featuring the mihrab and minbar. The Museum segment contains artifacts from the time when Hagia Sophia was designated as a museum, highlighting the Byzantine capitals and columns. Lastly, the Mosque again segment presents artifacts from the period following the 2020 retransformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, including the newly crafted mihrab and minbar.
The tech aspect
Predominantly a digital exhibition, the museum is replete with screens and simulations, enabling visitors to delve into Hagia Sophia‘s history through animations and visual effects. An attendant accompanies each tour group, ensuring impeccable timing and a seamless flow throughout the experience. The whole escorted visual tour takes about half an hour.
The Hagia Sophia History Museum serves as a singular and enthralling destination for those keen on immersing themselves in the rich tapestry of this emblematic edifice. It is an essential stop for enthusiasts of Byzantine and Ottoman history, architecture, and art.
History of the Building
The Hagia Sophia History Museum, housed in the storied building of the General Directorate of Land Registry and Cadastre, invites the public to explore Hagia Sophia‘s rich 1700-year history. This museum offers a comprehensive audio-visual journey across its top two floors, with the third floor dedicated to the Roman Empire Period and the second to the Ottoman Period.
The building, previously known as Defterhane, played a significant role in the Ottoman Empire. It was one of three treasury buildings that opened for Divan-ı Humayun (the Imperial Council) sessions and was sealed with the Grand Vizier’s seal upon closure.
The building, a prime example of the First National Architecture Movement, was designed by Architect Vedat Tek between 1907 and 1908 and completed in 1910. It functioned seamlessly with the adjoining Defterhane after the Republic of Türkiye‘s foundation, operating as the Directorate of Land Registry and Cadastre.
Vedat Tek skillfully blended neo-classical simplicity with ornamental tiles and hobnails, highlighted by an elevated entrance reminiscent of Seljuk crown gates. The design also features distinctive overhangs and decorative non-functional balconies, akin to bay windows.
Situated a stone throw’s away from Sultanahmet Square, on the At Meydani (The Hippodrome), the museum is accessible seven days a week, from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM.
Entry fees are 25 Euros for foreign nationals and 150 Turkish liras for Turkish citizens.
The museum is equipped to accommodate wheelchair users.
Children aged 0-8 are not accepted, and those over 8 years old are considered as adults.
For each group, the total capacity is 16 people, and the session time is 25 minutes. Afterwards, one can proceed to view the exhibits on the first floor or explore the museum shop.
Headphones are available at the museum entrance with various language options.