Hagia Sophia Museum, one of the historical and touristic places in Istanbul, became the most visited museum of Turkey by hosting 3.7 million visitors in 2019. Museum Director Hayrullah Cengiz explained the Hagia Sophia Museum, one of the leading structures in terms of art and architecture and attracting a great deal of attention of domestic and foreign tourists.
Among several palaces, churches, fountains, mosques, obelisks and mansions from the Byzantine and Ottoman periods, Hagia Sophia Museum is one of the museums hosting the most visitors in Turkey and Istanbul with its magnificent structure. Hagia Sophia Museum, one of the most prominent buildings that form the silhouette of Istanbul, is also one of the most interesting structures in the Historical Peninsula with its huge dome. The Hagia Sophia Museum located at Sultanahmet Square a few steps away from Topkapi Palace, Hippodrome and Basilica Cistern hosted 3.7 million visitors in 2019.
Museum Director Hayrullah Cengiz "Hagia Sophia Museum is one of two museums attracting the most visitors in Turkey. When we look at the numbers, we see that the Topkapi Palace or Hagia Sophia Museum is at the top from time to time. Our average number of visitors from 2012 to 2015 is around 3 and a half million. We had had a visitor record in 2015. In 2019, we broke a new record by hosting 3.7 million visitors."
"The Construction of the Temple is a World Record in its own Course"
Giving information about the history of Hagia Sophia and stating that it is the third temple built in its location, Cengiz said, "When it was built, it was Justinian, the emperor of the period. Justinian was the emperor, perhaps, the greatest ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire. After he decided to build a temple with unprecedented greatness and magnificence up until then, he started to build a temple on the first temple that was destroyed and burned, and he assigned two people during that period. In fact, these two people must be architects, but both are scientists. They were Isidore and Anthemius. One is the greatest arithmetic and geometry teacher of the period. The other one is perhaps the most important mechanical teacher of the period. Both began the construction of this temple, but Anthemius died a few years later, and this temple was finished by Isidore. Its construction took exactly 5 years from 532 to 537. In fact, while such a temple must have been built in a longer period, it was a world record in its own lane to be completed in such a short time. Especially when we make a time sequence between historical temples and historical buildings, we can see that similar temples were built in a very long period such as 100 to 150 years. Therefore, we can say that Hagia Sophia also broke a construction time record."
World's Largest Calligraphy Plates in Hagia Sophia
Cengiz gave information about the calligraphy plates that were in the Hagia Sophia Museum and attract great attention by the visitors and mentioned that Islamic figures were needed within the mosque culture said, "The oldest one belongs to Teknecizade İbrahim Efendi. The plates of Teknecizade were replaced with nowadays plates, which were more suitable for use between 1847 and 1850. These plates are also the largest calligraphy plates in the world that are 7.5 meter in diameter and were made of sail-cloth by the Qadi 'asker Mustafa İzzet Efendi. Linden was used as tree. While these plates were 6 at first, the Qadi 'asker added the names of Hasan and Husayn, the grandsons of our Prophet, and increased the numbers of plates to 8. It has been hanging in its place for many years. Apart from this, on the right side of the mihrab part, among the plates belonging to three separate sultans, the plate at the top belongs to Mahmud II, and this is the biggest calligraphy plate in a mosque in Istanbul. On the left side of the mihrab, there are two separate calligraphy plates."
Mentioning about the features that make the building unique, Cengiz said, "The biggest feature of Hagia Sophia is the closed area and its dome covered. The dome is approximately 32 meters in diameter, and a dome of such size has not been attempted to be built until then. In fact, a temple was built in Rome a little earlier, but it is much more flattened as a dome and has a width of 9 meters in the middle. These features, which make Hagia Sophia privileged and magnificent, have not been outrun for a thousand years. Even though its dome was an example to the buildings built later, it was never repeated within a church architecture. The temple is also 56 meters above ground level, which is also a record in itself. It still takes the 4th rank among historical temples. In addition to these features, its figured mosaics and mosaic structure also make its magnificent."
"Different Myths are believed in Different Beliefs about Hagia Sophia"
Referring to the myths known about Hagia Sophia and mentioning that different religious beliefs are believed in different myths, Cengiz mentioned about the myth of Khidr, which is about the main dome: "Hagia Sophia is a temple of 1500 years old. It has Christian myths when it was church and Islamic myths when it was a mosque especially. Myths usually come from little known, but every myth has a share of reality in it. When we look at the signs of the Imperial crowning ceremony area under the main dome of Hagia Sophia, the Sweating Column or some other places, we see that they brought many myths. For example, there is a myth about the big main dome. During the times when this place was a mosque, Muslims believed that they would encounter with Khidr if they performed forty consecutive prayers under the main dome".
Speaking of another legend, Cengiz said, "Today we have a place that we call as wish stone, wishing column or sweating column. This place has been important for both Christians and Muslims and became a subject of curiosity. According to Christians when it was learned that Jesus Christ, son of Mary was captured and tortured, it was said that the place where he was kept shed tears and the tears pierced a marble there. There is a belief that when Justinian was building this temple, he brought this marble and placed it here."
Cengiz explained the other legend as follows: "According to the belief of Muslims, after the conquest of Istanbul and conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, the first Friday prayer began. Akshamsaddin, the tutor of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, came up the khutbah sermon. The prayer should be performed by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror. Sultan Fatih took the mihrab place. After raising his hands for the first takbir, he terminated the prayer saluting his left and right. After raising his hands for the second takbir, he terminated the prayer again. At the end of the third takbir, he began praying. Then he was asked why he had done this. He replied, "I could not see the Kaaba in front of me after I recited takbir. After seeing the Kaaba in front of me following the third takbir, I continued to pray only then." They also asked to Akshamsaddin to fully understand the issue. Akshamsaddin replied, "There was also Khidr among the worshippers. He was standing over there that column. Since the direction of the temple was not facing the Qibla, he held the column and rotated Hagia Sophia facing towards Qibla. Just because he was seen at that moment, he had to stop for a while." So, we have a legend that Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror could only continue to perform the prayer after he could see the Kaaba after the third takbir. Further examples of myths and legends about Hagia Sophia can be given. These myths had even become a doctoral thesis in the Department of Folk Literature of the Faculty of Letters in Istanbul University."
Today, the wishing column, which people believe that their wishes will come true if they make their wishes by placing their thumbs in the cavity on the column rotating a full turn clockwise, attracts great attention by the visitors.
"The Common Temple of All Religions and Sects: Hagia Sophia"
Talking about the tombs in Hagia Sophia, Cengiz said, "We have 5 tombs on the southern side. The oldest of these belongs to Sultan Selim II. Now, there are tombs of Sultan Murad III, Sultan Mehmed III along with tombs of shahzades (princes) as well as tombs of Sultan Mustafa and Sultan İbrahim within the baptistery when the Hagia Sophia was first built.
Expressing that Hagia Sophia Museum hosted visitors from many different religions and races, Cengiz said, "Here you can see people so to speak from 72 different nationalities, different races, religions and sects. Of course, there are different artifacts that vary from the visitors' own cultures and attract their interest. Hagia Sophia is one of the oldest temples that survived in all its glory while preserving its integrity. It has a very important place in its history of architecture and art, from its interior decoration, to its marble structure, from the size of its dome, to the track left and large area it occupies in the history of architecture. It is also the largest church standing in the east. It is a place for Christians to visit since it is a temple for Christians from the time when Christianity was not divided into sects. For Muslims, Hagia Sophia is the holiest place to visit, especially in order to be able to enjoy the hadith of our Prophet about the conquest of Istanbul. You can see the religion and belief basis of this. Therefore, you can consider Hagia Sophia as the common temple of all sects."
İstanbul, TÜRSAB (Association of Turkish Travel Agencies), 2011, İstanbul