Constructed between 532 and 537 CE by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, the Hagia Sophia – from the Greek meaning “Church of the Holy Wisdom of God” – for over 900 years served as the Orthodox basilica for the Greek Patriarchal of Constantinople, and the religious focal point of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

And for that time it was the largest cathedral in the world.

Famous for its massive dome, some consider it to be the epitome of Byzantine architecture, even to have changed the history of architecture itself, and despite the pictures, they don’t do the place justice. There’s a magnitude to the building that can’t be captured the same way as standing there feels.

It is also famed as the site where Cardinal Humbert in 1054 excommunicated Michael I Cerularius, resulting in the formal division of the church into what would we now known as the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic churches. With the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottoman Turks, the Hagia Sophia was converted by Sultan Mehmed II into a mosque, and remained such until it was closed in 1931, and underwent restoration, before reopening in February 1935 as a museum. For almost 500 years the building not only served as the principal mosque of Istanbul, but also as a model for other Ottoman mosques – such as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) which was built directly across from it.

Closed Mondays, is otherwise open between 9AM and 4:30PM during the winter season, and 9AM and 6PM during the summer season.

Admission is $20TL – approximately $11CDN – though the tombs in the adjacent yard are free. If you go around the right of the building from the main gate you’ll find a collection of buildings from the Ottoman period, which contain symbolic coffins of the five Ottoman Sultans, their wives, and the princes and sultanas.

Tip: You’ll probably want to go early in the morning, as it’s popular with locals and tourists alike. Also wear some good walking shoes. The ramps up to the second floor are uneven, requiring good grips and are comfortable.