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Visiting Hagia Sophia Museum

Aerial shot of Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia / Istanbul

The Exonarthex
The Inner Narthex
The General Characteristics of the Edifice
The Dome
The Wall
The Apse
Columns and Capitals
The Main Nave
The Southern Nave
The Northern Side Nave
Hagia Sophia Library

Special thanks to Net Holding for providing us with these documents.
Jesus' mosaic portrait in Hagia Sophia The entrance to the museum is at the front of the building.Before entering the museum, the ruins of the second Hagia Sophia found outside in front of the huilding, are worth seeing.

The excavations carried out in front and only to the left of the building, so as not to endanger it, unearthed the remains of the facade of Hagia Sophia built by Theodosius II. The steps and the door of the portico can he seen here, in the great hollow. The roofing material of the portico and other remains of the facade, are found both in the hollow, and in an area a few metres to the north. These architectural pieces bear the characteristics of the 5th century.

The facade of the building has heen reconstructed with finds such as rafters, arches, alcoves, columns and capitals. Carved on the rafter seen in the hollow, is a scene of lambs which, according to Christian iconography, represent the believers. Undoubtedly, the rest of the scene is still buried. Excavations revealed mosaic decorations on the floor but these have heen removed. Justinian's Hagia Sophia was built on top of these remains. The German professor A.M. Schneider carried out the excavations in 1936.

The Exonarthex

Entrance to Exonarthex The doors of the entrance to Justinian's Hagia Sophia are not decorated with ancient Byzantine motifs. The main entrance leads to the exonarthex which is 60.9 metres long and 6.03 metres wide, and its ceiling is covered with groined vaulting. During the Byzantine era, the exonarthex was reserved for those who had not yet been baptized. Doors to the minarets added in the Ottoman era, are found at the northern and southern ends.

Originally there were seven doors from the atrium to the exonarthex. Today, two of these are not used, and another two lead into rooms which were added later. Most of the archaeological treasures exhibited in the exonarthex are Byzantine objects found in various places in Istanbul. Among these are the three rows of plaster moulage of tablets upon which the decisions of the 1166 Council were inscribed. From the exonarthex there are five entrances to the inner narthex. The oak doors covered with bronze plates belong to the Byzantine era. The three middle doors have been cleaned recently, and it was found that once they were gilded. They are exquisitely decorated. The other two doors have been modified.

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The Inner Narthex

Mosaic above the Imperial Gate The groined vaulted ceiling of the inner narthex is completelycovered with mosaic, and the walls are of veined marble. The colourful mosaics of floral and geometric motifs on a gold background, create a magnificent appearance. The characteristics of Justinian's time are best preserved in the inner narthex. The cross motif is used throughout the mosaic design of the ceiling. As ancient sources indicate, during this period there were no figural mosaics. However the figural mosaic decoration of the imperial door is a very important work of art. After it was uncovered and its discovery was published in 1933, its age and identification became the subject of debate for historians.

This scene depicts Jesus sitting on a magnificent celestial throne. His right hand is raised in a gesture of blessing, and in His left hand He holds an open book bearing the inscription: "Peace be with you. I am the Light of the World." On either side of Jesus, there are roundels. The one on the left portrays the Virgin Mary, and that on the right portrays the angel Gabriel. Jesus, potrayed here as the Pantocrator (King of the World), is dressed in white hiton and himation, and his features resemble Zeus, the king of gods.

Columns and arcades of the northern side The latest research revealed that the bearded emperor prostrateon Jesus' lower left represents Emperor Leon VI. Although the scene is uncharacteristic of Byzantine iconography, the emperor is depicted imploring Christ's forgiveness.

The subject of the scene is the three marriages of Leo VI, a situation contrary to the doctrine of the Orthodox church. Since the emperor was still without a male heir even after three marriages, he was allowed to marry his mistress Zoe, the mother of his illegitimate son, after a long dispute.

Thus, his son Porphyrogenitus became the legal heir to the throne. Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus is famous for his "Book of Ceremonies': which describes the religious ceremonies per-formed in Hagia Sophia. The mosaic is dated after the death of the emperor, around 920 AD.

The large door at the northern side of the inner narthex opens to the kochlias which leads to the upper gallery. The door on the south side opens into a vestibule, which leads to what has been the main entrance of the building since the 10th century.

There are nine doors leading from the narthex to the main halls. Of these, the three southern doors were used by the public, and those seeking sanctuary used the three northern doors. Although these doors are simply designed, the three middle doors used by the emperor and his procession have elaborate decorations. The mostimpressive is the Imperial Gate in the centre. The sources indicate that, originally the doors were covered with gold and silver plates which were stripped off by the Fourth Crusaders. As a matter of fact, when the large door was cleaned, traces of gold were found. According to a legend, the doors were made of wood taken from Noah's Ark. None of the present doors are original.

Over the Imperial Gate there is a bronze cornice which has been the subject of many interesting legends. The scene in the middle of the cornice depicts a throne with an open book and a pigeon.

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The General Characteristics of the Edifice

Interior of Hagia Sophia The Imperial Gate leads to the central nave of Hagia Sophia.he magnificent view created hby the high dome, marble columns and arches is overwhelming. The dome is 55.6 metres high and approximately 31.4 metres wide. Due to repairs and earthquakes over the centuries, the large dome is not completely circular any more. The ceiling is completely covered with mosaics. The dome rests on four large arches, and these arches are supported by four pillars. Some of the weight of the dome is transmitted to the semi-domes in the north and south, and to the lower sections.

The interior of Hagia Sophia contains 107 columns. 40 of these are found on the ground floor and the rest are up in the gallery. Over the years, buttresses have been huilt outside, against almost every wall, to lessen the stress of the building and to counteract the damage caused by earthquakes.

As mentioned before, Hagia Sophia was built on a domed basilica plan. Accordingly, it has a central nave, northern and southern side naves, and two narthexes in the west. Only in the central nave is it possible to see all the way up to the dome. A second storey, the gallery, was built over the two side naves and the inner narthex. The distance from the Imperial Gate to the apse is 79.3 metres. The length of the edifice is approximately 100 metres. The width of the main nave is 32.3 metres and together with the side naves, the total width is 70 metres. From these measurements we conclude that Hagia Sophia covers an area of 7.500 square metres and is the fourth largest, as well as being the oldest church in the world after St. Peter's in Rome, Seville Cathedral and Milan Cathedral.

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The Dome

The dome is constructed of light bricks and its interior iscovered with mosaics. Decorative mosaic hands radiate from the crown to the base of the dome. Documents indicate that the crown was previously decorated with a mosaic representation of Christ the Pantocrator.Today, it is replaced by an inscription from the Koran which was created by Kazasker Izzet Efendi in the 19th century. The forty windows at the base of the dome are decorated with multicoloured mosaics. Four-winged cherubims are depicted in the pendentives.

The cherubims in the eastern pendentives are of mosaic, those in the western pendentives are frescoes. Since figural representations are against the Islamic code, the faces of the cherubims were covered with gold leaf medallions in the 19th century during the last major restoration.

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The Walls

Mosaics of St.Chrysostome Numerous windows were built in the southern and northernwalls to reduce the stress of the dome's weight transmitted to the walls by the arches. The walls are supported hy pillars.

Mosaic figures of religious leaders dressed in white ceremonial gowns,with their names inscribed beside them, decorate the niches in the northern wall. From west to east: In the first niche is St. Ignatius, Patriarch of Constantinople, in the central niche, St. Chrysostom and in the third niche, St. Ignatius Theophorus, Patriarch of Antioch. All are dated the 10th century.

The walls of the main nave are covered with marble up to the upper reaches of the gallery. The walls of the side naves and inner narthex are covered with marble from floor to ceiling.

These valuable marbles of all colours from different regions of the empire, were specially selected for Hagia Sophia. It is said that the white marble from the Island of Marmara (Proconnenus), the green marble, from the Island of Egriboz and Mount Tagetus near Isparta, the pink marble from Synada near Afyonkarahisar, the yellow marble from Africa and the red marble from North Africa, were all brought to Constantinople from those places. The veined marbles were cut symmetrically to create the decorative patterns which adorn the walls. Descriptive stone carvings in special panel form are found mostly in the two side naves. Some of these are found above the Imperial Gate on the inside. Around the decorative roundels on the left and right, dolphins are depicted, and among them is the trident of Poseidon. Over these two panels is an ornament in the shape of atemple .

A cross is seen behind the curtain between the columns. After the church was converted into a mosque, panels with inscriptions from the Koran were placed in certain parts of the buildings. Until the 13th century, huge panels mounted at the level of the gallery were hung from the piers. When these deteriorated, they were replaced by medallions 7.5 metres in diameter during the reign of Sultan Abdulmecid, and inscribed by the famous calligrapher, Kazasker Mustafa Izzet Efendi, with the words: "Allah', "Muhammed', the names of the first caliph, and Caliph Ali's sons, Hasan and Huseyin.

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The Apse

Mosaic depicting Virgin Mary and Christ-child The semi-dome of the apse is completely covered with mosaics.When the plaster was removed in 1935, a mosaic depicting the Virgin Mary holding the Christ-child in her lap was discovered. Two angels also appear in the scene. The archangel Michael, depicted in the north, is almost totally destroyed, only hisfeet remain. The archangel Gabriel, standing on the right holding a globe in his left hand and a staff in his right, is also damaged.

Figures are imposed on a gold mosaic background. The figure of the Virgin Mary is still in perfect condition. She is wearing a green cloak and sitting on a jewelled throne. The Christ-child is wearing a golden cloak and has a very mature expression on his face. This mosaic panel is dated to the 9th century. On the face of the apse conch is a damaged inscription in Greek.Not much is known about the decoration of the large windows in the apse during the Byzantine era. The present stained-glass windows have 19th century Turkish designs.

The upper parts of the arches connecting the windows, are decorated with engraved calligraphy and small disc panels inscribed with the words "Allah", "Muhammed", and the names of the caliphs. These decorations are in total harmony with the rest of the architectural ornamentation. Since the apse does not face Mecca, Islamic architects added an altar facing south, after Hagia Sophia became a mosque. An inscription from the Koran is seen on the frieze of blue tiles. The frieze extends all along the apse.

The bronze candelabras in front of the altar were brought from Hungary by Kanuni Sultan Suleyman (Suleyman the Magnificent) and presented to Hagia Sophia. The areas on either side of the apse are covered with decorative Turkish tiles. That to the north was convertedted into an imperial tribune by the addition of a floor. It was decorated with tiles and a small altar was added. It was used by the sultans until Mahmud II (1808-1833), and later a magnificent pew was erected on the same side. The entrance to the pew seen today, is through a separate door in the east, in front of the Sultan Ahmed III Fountain built in the 13th century. Its ornamentation and architecture exhihit the characteristics of Turkish, Byzantine and European baroque art.

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Columns and Capitals

Capital with monogram Undoubtedly, the columns, capitals, and the arches connecting them, are important elements enriching the architectural beauty of Hagia Sophia. We may even say that the masterpieces of the 6th century art of carving are to be found here. The column heads are meticulously carved in exquisite lace-like designs.

The monograms of Justinian and his wife Theodora can also be seenon the column capitals. The carving on the arches connecting the columns display the same quality of work. The lower sections of the arches are decorated with mosaics, and the exterior surfaces are ornamented in "opus sectile".

The most important of Hagia Sophia's 107 columns are located on the ground floor. Some of these were brought from ancient temples and monuments in different regions of the empire.

Historical sources agree that they were acquired from the Temple of the Sun god Heliopolis, from the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, and from monuments in Rome and Baalhek. Yet, the measurements of these columns do not match the size of the temples from which they are supposed to have come (for example, the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus). It is certain that there are columns in Hagia Sophia acquired from ancient monuments. There are also columns which were carved especially for Hagia Sophia in Thessaly and the Island of Marmara (Proconnesus).

Black-veined, grey marble from the Island of Marmara was also used to pave the floor. Large blocks of marble were sawn into plates, and these were fitted in such a way that the natural veins of the marble were connected.

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The Southern Nave

Virgin Mary The ceiling of the southern nave is covered with 6th centurygold mosaics, and the vaults and arches are decorated with multicoloured geometric and floral designs. The cross motifs may still be seen through the varnish they were covered with in the 19th century. Decorative panels embellish the marble vaults. The two panels facing each other on the eastern side are decorated with Poseidon's trident and dolphins, which were a coat of arms in Byzantine times.

Next to these, in the south-eastern end of the church, stands a rectangular column on which there is a hand print. There were many legends about this hand print. As the sources indicate, this piece of stone was added later onto the column. It was originally found in the Theotokos Church at Ayvansaray and the hand print was accep-ted as the Virgin Mary's. When the church burned down, the stone was brought to Hagia Sophia.

The area right in front of the library, between the columns and the pillar, was known as the Metatorium. The emperor watched the religious ceremonies from here.

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The Main Nave

St.John the Baptist in deesis The floor of the main nave is covered with grey and white marble. The square area in the pavement next to the preacher's pulpit is decorated with square and circular slabs of marble. According to some sources, the emperors were crowned here (13th century). This type of flooring is foreign to Hagia Sophia's architectural style. Therefore, it was probably brought here from another monument. In general, the emperors were crowned on the ambon in the middle of the church.

The preacher's pulpit and smaller pews were placed in such away that they do not upset the general architectural effect.

The two huge Hellenistic urns on either side of the Imperial Gate were brought from the ancient ruins in Bergama. According to a rumour, they were presented to Hagia Sophia by Sultan Murad III. During the Ottoman period, each was fitted with a lid and a faucet and used for ablutions.

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The Northern Side Nave

The decoration of the ceiling and walls are similar to thoseof the southern nave. The wall panels depict different themes. Near the door to the narthex is a rectangular pillar the lower section of which is covered with a brass plate hearing a hole. It is the subject of many legends and is known as the "sweating cloumn". In Byzantine times, it was referred to as "St. Gregory's Mira- cle Column". It attracts the most attention in Hagia Sophia.

Visitors stick their fingers in the hole and make a wish which they think will come true if their finger comes out wet. Some believe that the moisture cures eye diseases. In reality, the column is of the type of stone which absorbs moisture easily. The hole is just coincidental.

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Hagia Sophia Library

One of the most beautiful buildings of the Ottoman period, it was built during the reign of Sultan Mahmud I (1739). It is built between two buttresses. Viewed from the inside, it enhances rather than spoils the general architectural style. The main section where the books are stored and the reading room, are decorated with the most famous ancient Turkish tiles.

There are tiles from Iznik, Kutahya, Tekfur Palace, and even a few from Europe. The engraved wood bookshelves have a characteristic form, and historical objects pertaining to the library are displayed here.

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