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Basilica of Saint Sophia in Istanbul

By Paulina Sánchez |

Saint Sophia allows us to find bridges between different cultures, elements of great historical interest and links between artistic motifs.


In Description of Hagia Sophia Paul the Silentiary, a sixth century Byzantine poet, described the dome of the magnificent basilica: “Rising into the immeasurable air is a divine helmet rounded on all sides like a sphere and, radiant as the heavens, it bestrides the roof of the church.” And through these words, the poet reflects how Aya Sofya (house of divine wisdom) as the Turks call it, gathers in its architectural design, mosaics and paintings, a masterpiece of Byzantine art DINKtravelers would like you to visit.


Istanbul, the city that harbors Saint Sophia, was established as Constantinople in the year 330 and it became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire better known as the Byzantine Empire. It was precisely Constantine, its founder, who consecrated the first church of Saint Sophia, although the project faced an early death since it burned to ashes in 404.

Later, Justinian asked two architects, Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus, to elaborate an ambitious structure that reflected the power of the empire and the Christian faith. So, crowning the city, they erected a monumental church of complex symbolism that applied complicated techniques such as the domed 55 m. tall roof (180 ft.) that represents the heavens and the universe; the main hall with an area of 70 x 74 m. (230 x 242 ft.), big medallions and monolithic columns.


Centuries later, in 1453, after Constantinople was taken by the Turks, Saint Sophia was turned into a mosque, so most of its original decoration was substituted by luxurious Arab calligraphy, while four minarets were added to the building.


The structure’s sober dark red façade with a Latin cross floor plan put together all the knowledge developed during Hellenism, and so it became the symbol of the Byzantinian Empire’s golden age. Then, when it was transformed into a refuge of prayer for the Muslim world, those visual elements were enriched. For this reason, since Saint Sophia was turned into a museum in 1935, visiting it allows tourists to find bridges between different cultures as well as aspects of great historical interest and links between artistic motifs. At the same time, visiting it invites the traveler to plan trips to other destinations, since its transcendence reached not only the territories occupied by Eastern Christendom but also the Western Christian Orthodox areas. And so, in Russia, Greece, Bulgaria and Rumania they built several churches whose inspiration in Hagia Sophia is evident.


After climbing the stairs to the second floor in Saint Sophia…

  • Look for the mosaic where emperor Constantine and empress Zoe are represented adoring Christ.
  • Find the tomb of Enrico Dandolo, a Venetian duke who died in Constantinople in 1205.
  • Look out the windows and enjoy the magnificent views of the Blue Mosque.
  • Look over the balustrade toward the main hall to have a better perspective of the dome and the first floor.