Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya)
Hagia Sophia (or Aya Sofya) is one of the world’s most beautiful buildings, built to be the world’s largest place of worship by Emperor Justinian in 532 AD.
The church became a Mosque under the Ottomans, and its mosaics and decoration were plastered over. They have been successively revealed since the 1930s, when the building was declared a museum by Turkey’s legendary ruler, Atatürk.
The Hagia Sophia’s golden mosaics are rivaled only by Ravenna’s, and its design was the inspiration for the basilica of San Marco in Venice.
The huge complex is a riot of domes and minarets, focusing on the huge central dome which for centuries was unrivaled as an architectural masterpiece.
Inside, the lofty interior is a soaring sequence of domed and arched spaces, centering on the shell-like apse and the massive dome, which seems to float unsupported and gives the church its amazing sense of space.
Review by Julian E, April 2013
Doing what: Istanbul Small-Group Walking Tour: Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and Grand Bazaar
This was probably the best tour of the ones I did on my trip to Istanbul and Athens. Our tour guide was beyond friendly and excited about showing us all of the cool sites that we were going to see in our full day. The small group walking tour was great because it was limited to a certain number of people so it was easier to follow and listen to our guide with no problems at all. We got to see and tour the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and the Topkapi Palace. The tour also included lunch at a great restaurant in the middle of the day. Our guide was very friendly and very gracious and warm with all of our questions and observations on the trip, even helping to take photos for people who wanted to remember the amazing sites that we were visiting. I have done a number of Viator tours and this one was probably the best one because the guide was so great. She really had a great deal of knowledge to past and when I even brought up a story that another guide had mentioned, she didn't shoot my story down but rather seemed genuinely interested in learning this new information and excited to research it as she might have learned something new herself. I would say that if you go to Istanbul you absolutely must do this tour because it covers four of the most visited sites in Istanbul in great detail and its so helpful to have someone showing you around and explaining what it is you are looking at, especially in the Topkapi Palace which has so many parts and rooms and things to look at. I would highly recommend this tour and hopefully you end up with the great tour guide that we had.
Review by Nilan J, March 2013
Doing what: Istanbul in One Day Sightseeing Tour: Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar
This trip is great and value for money. I recommend to anybody who is on a busy schedule. Hagia Sophia is one of a kind. Everything was very well organized. We had a nice tour guide called Derya she was very knowledgeable and was ready to answer any question that we may have. We had a satisfying lunch and people were very hospitable. I never felt we were rushed at anypoint during the tour, in fact had enough time to take some good snaps. Istanbul has something for everybody.
In addition to this tour I would highly recommend to all folks visiting Istanbul to take Bosphorus cruise at night! Amazing..! Thanks Viator, Neon, and our Guide Derya
Review by Bruce P, Australia, March 2013
Doing what: Private Tour: Istanbul in One Day Sightseeing Tour including Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace
This was an excellent tour. Our guide (Tibet) took us to all the key sites, and we managed to avoid all of the queues. The tour also included a fabulous lunch at a hotel near the Hagia Sophia and Tibet also took us through the bazaar. Well worth having the private tour which also included pick up and return from our hotel.
Head to the upstairs gallery to catch the best views and to glimpse the surviving mosaics, in particular the golden mosaic of the Virgin and Child in the apse.
Hagia Sophia is in Sultanahmet, opposite the Blue Mosque. To get here, walk or catch a tram up Divan Yolu.