Finally Laying Eyes on the Magnificent Hagia Sophia

My first memory of the Hagia Sophia goes back to when I was an adventure-starved 15-year old learning about the Byzantine Empire in history class. As we watched a video about the Hagia Sophia, I quickly became entranced with the Hagia Sophia’s age, her golden walls and her unique melange of Byzantine, Roman and Arabic history.

At 15, the only place I had been was Sarasota- it never occurred to me that someday I would make it all the way to Turkey and actually see the Hagia Sophia.

But see the Hagia Sophia I did. And it lived up to my extraordinarily high expectations. Actually, it exceeded them.



My first glimpse of the Hagia Sophia left me open-mouthed and unable to stop clicking photos- it was truly one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.


Walking around I could spot evidence of the building’s many incarnations- it was first constructed as a Byzantine basilica, then briefly transformed into a Roman Catholic cathedral, then served as an an imperial mosque for almost 500 years and now exists as a museum.


Construction of the Hagia Sophia began in 530 AD. I mean how can you not be in awe of a building that’s been standing for almost 1,500 years? This building has endured earthquakes and fires. It has been ransacked by Latin Christians and pillaged by Muslim armies. Icons have been built, stolen, then put back. Frescoes have been plastered, painted over, and hundreds of years later revealed once again.


When Sultan Mehmet, a Muslim conquerer, laid siege to Istanbul in 1453 AD, the church quickly became a refuge for the city’s Christian inhabitants. Once the city fell Sultan Mehmet converted the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, and all those who had been trapped inside of the church were then enslaved or slaughtered.


The Hagia Sophia must be crawling with ghosts, and the air there felt still, quiet and cool, reverberating with echoes.


An example of one of the Byzantine frescos that were covered with plaster and recently uncovered.


What I loved most about the Hagia Sophia was the fusion of two architecture styles so different: the almost Corinthian marble pillars, the gigantic placards emblazoned with Arabic script and the golden mosaics of Christ and Mary all blended together in such a memorable way.




These mosaics used to extend much further down- but under the Muslim rule the tiles were sold to visitors who believed the tiles to be talismans.


Of all of the things I have been lucky enough to see in my life, this was one of the most beautiful.

Have you visited the Hagia Sophia?

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

15 thoughts on “Finally Laying Eyes on the Magnificent Hagia Sophia”

  1. I actually had never learned about this mosque in any of my schooling so I appreciate the little history lesson. It’s an absolutely beautiful mosque!

  2. I’ve never visited the Hagia Sophia. However, its definitely on my list of things I need to see. I did a lot of research on it through my art history courses in college. Your pictures are stunning! Now I just need to see it in person. Thank you for convincing me its definitely worth seeing in person!

  3. These photos are beautiful, Ashley! Between you and Liz Carlson posting about Turkey lately, It has quickly shot up my places-to-visit-next list. Like you, I am simply amazed that the structure is still standing after 1,500 years, two religions, and countless natural disasters. Whoa.

  4. Nice pictures Ashley! I went to Hagia Sophia last January and I was completely awed by the magnificence of this ancient structure. It’s beyond words.

  5. I did a 16-day, mind blowing trip to Turkey in 2006. It was magical and I would wake up every morning to the call to prayer and think I was still dreaming. It is my favorite trip overall. We stayed close to the Hagia Sofia when we were in Istanbul and we kept finding ourselves going back.

    You are a wonderful writer – you translate experiences well.

  6. Great post, but i guess there is a misunderstanding. Turkey was named as Ottoman Empire until 1920s and Arabic culture isn’t very similar to Turkish. When Fatih Sultan Mehmet conquered İstanbul he didn’t slaughter the one’s who were in Hagia Sofia and i am not sure about the enslaving part. In their religion when they conquer somewhere they give people two choices. They can choose believing their own religion or they can be Muslims. If they choose believing their own religion they continue to have freedom of religion.

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