Haghia Sophia, the "Church of Holy Wisdom", was built by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. More than 1400 years old, Haghia Sophia covers a total area of 7570 square meters and is over 100 metres long. Never again did the Byzantines attempt to build anything approaching the scale of Haghia Sophia.
After 916 years as a church, Haghia Sophia was converted into a mosque in 1453, shortly after the conquest. Apart from whitewashing the paintings and mosaics and removing the Christian icons and statues, the Turks left Haghia Sophia untouched. They committed no acts of destruction as the eighth and ninth century Christian iconoclasts had done. In 1935 the church was transformed into a museum.
Five doors led into the outer narthex, the largest in the centre reserved for the emperor and members of his family. At the entrance to the narthex is a mosaic depicting Constantine and Justinian presenting the walled city of constantinople and Haghia Sophia respectively to the Virgin Mary, who holds the infant Christ in her arms. Other mosaics depict the angel Gabriel, the angel Michael, three saints: St.Ignatius, St. John Chrysostom, St. Ignatius Theophorus. Any siver, gold or jewels which were in Haghia Sophia were plundered by the Latins of the Fourth Crusade who occupied Istanbul in 1204 and ruled here for over a century.
Next to the exit stood the Ablutions Fountain, built around 1740, which is an example of Turkish Rococo style.
In the upper galleries known as the gynaceum, there are several mosaic panels representing the Emperor Alexander, the Empress Zoe and her third husband Constantine IX, the Emperor John Comnenus and his wife Eirene. Near the Deesis mosaic is the tomb of Dandalo, Doge of Venice, one of the leaders of the Fourth Crusade.
Another indication of reverence in which the Turks held Haghia Sophia is the collection of royal tombs in the precinct. The tombs of Mustafa I, Sultan Ibrahim, Selim II, Murat III and Mehmet III are all worth visiting.