Walk Description

Originally constructed in the 6th century, the church of Hagia Sofia, or the church of Holy Wisdom, represents the highest achievements of the Byzantine Empire. Considered to be one of the architectural wonders of the world, its light-infused interior, massive dome, and mosaics have inspired and challenged scholars for centuries. During this three-hour walk of the Hagia Sofia and surrounding context we'll unfold the many layers of this structure, from its Roman beginnings to its Ottoman resurrection.

In order to fully appreciate and understand the historical context of the Hagia Sofia, we'll begin our walk with the ancient Roman hippodrome (running track) and other remnants of the Roman empire that are located nearby. Here we will discuss the rise of Constantinople in the 4th century. Elements of ancient Roman engineering and city building, such as cisterns and sewers, still remain in this area. A visit to these sites gives us the opportunity to talk about ancient Roman urban planning and the foundations that were laid for the Byzantine Empire.

We then move to the Hagia Sofia itself. Using the building as a kind of text, we will read the history of its construction, the rule of Emperor Justinian, and how the building came to be a major center for the Eastern Orthodox faith for nearly a millennium. We will pay particular attention to the architectural design and engineering of the structure, including its innovative dome, which remains one of the largest in the world. We will also spend significant time dealing with the exquisite mosaics, some of which date to the 10th century and are considered among the world's finest art treasures.

We will conclude by turning our attention to the Ottoman reinvention and rescue of the building in the 15th and 16th centuries, when it was converted into a mosque without significant rebuilding. We will emerge at the end of our walk with a deeper appreciation of this most singular building and its influence throughout history.


Duration: 3 hours
Category: History
Venues: Hagia Sophia
Incidentals: ticket to the Hagia Sofia, purchased on site- TRY30.00

View Istanbul - Hagia Sophia in a larger map
  • 6026332216_1832b3ff63_thumb

    Claire Karaz

    Claire has dual degrees in English (University of Michigan) and medieval art history (Università di Roma "La Sapienza"). She lived in Rome for a decade where she taught art history at Trinity College and study abroad programs for other American universities. She has lived in Istanbul for the last twelve years. She is presently an adjunct instructor at Yeditepe University and a freelance translator. Originally from Washington, DC, Claire is very interested in social history. She is the author of Topkapı Palace: Inside and Out, published by Citlembik in 2004.

  • Ceylan_zere_thumb

    ceylan zere

    Ceylan was born and raised in Istanbul and has spent much of her life wandering through its maze of busy streets and alleyways. With a background in engineering, she possesses a good knowledge of the city's built environment. She has spent many years in the United States, and although she continues traveling, her deep love is for Istanbul, its traditions, lives, characters, and the stories of the two great Empires that made the city their capital over the last two thousand years. A licensed guide for Turkey, Ceylan spends much of the year leading expeditions to archeological sites along the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts of Turkey. She is the co-author of "Turkey Guide: Confluence of Civilizations," written for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

  • Vesikalik_eps__thumb

    Zeynep Cetrez

    Zeynep Cetrez studied the diverse populations of Ottoman Turkey and has a special interest in the 19th century travel accounts and urban history. She has a history master's degree from Sabanci University (Istanbul) and art history master's degree from Rice University (Houston).

  • Open-uri20130305-26642-80wzmo

    Ebru Gokteke

    Ebru has a background in journalism and was a writer for many years for a variety of Turkish magazines, including Gezi National Geographic Traveler. She has also served as an arts editor at a local publication. A native of Istanbul and a licensed guide, she has a broad range of knowledge, and is extremely interested in art and aesthetics, as well as translating the details of the Istanbul street experience for visitors. Ebru is currently attending an MA program in the history of religions at the School of Theology and working on her thesis on temple liturgy.

  • Halukcet_thumb

    Haluk Cetinkaya

    Haluk is an archaeologist and scholar of Byzantine history. He holds a PhD in Byzantine studies from the University of Istanbul and is a member of the archaeology faculty at Mimar University. Haluk serves as an advisor for many significant digs and restoration projects in Istanbul and Kosovo, and has lectured at universities around the world. He is considered an expert on the Hagia Sofia and was involved in a major television program about that structure. Haluk has a warm and inviting teaching style coupled with a deep knowledge and passion for late Roman and Byzantine culture in Istanbul.

  • Melike_thumb

    Melike Yazicioglu Taspinar

    Melike holds a degree in art history from Sinan University in Istanbul, where she specialized in the late antique period in Sultanahmet. Her research background also includes extensive work in Ottoman architecture, which makes her uniquely suited for our walking seminars in the historic center of Istanbul.

  • Yusufkilincci_thumb

    Yusuf Kilincci

    Yusuf Kilincci is a nationally licensed guide for Turkey with a degree from Zonguldak University. He has continued his studies in management however his passion for the historical and cultural background of his country made him decide to focus on leading groups. Yusuf is particularly interested in Jewish heritage of Istanbul and the Ottoman Palaces.

  • Fotograf_thumb

    Esra Cakmak

    Esra graduated from Ankara University from the department of Spanish Language and Literature. Her interest in the archaeology and history of Turkey led her to become a licensed guide. Attracted by the Byzantine history of Istanbul, Esra is now focusing in Istanbul.

  • Zack_taylor_photo_for_bio_thumb

    Zachary Taylor

    After receiving his bachelor of arts degree in Classics from Harvard University and a master’s degree in Ancient Greek literature from Cambridge University, Zachary Taylor focused on late-antique novels, which remained very popular throughout the Byzantine period. His studies in classical and Byzantine history, literature and society with a particular interest in ancient science and magic raised the idea of writing a historical novel from the perspective of a minor government official of the Byzantine Empire just prior to the First Crusade. Zachary, a native of New York City, lives in Istanbul as he looks into the depths of the Byzantine history and takes advantage of the city as a perfect setting while he is writing his book. He loves using the stories and physical remains of the city’s Byzantine past to bring to life the culture of the remarkable and under appreciated empire that was the bridge between Antiquity and the Middle Ages.