Little Hagia Sophia Mosque
The Little Hagia Sophia, located near the southern part of the Marmara walls, between the Kadırga and Cankurtaran districts, is not well-known as the Great Hagia Sophia but is older than it. The construction of the church, which started in 527 could be completed in 536 because of the Nika uprising in 534. What is important about the Little Hagia Sophia Mosque is that it is one of the oldest places of worship in Istanbul from the Roman period.
Visiting Little Hagia Sophia
The period of Justinian I was almost a renaissance for Eastern Rome. The innovation and progress,seen in many areas, has also shown itself in architecture, various experimental works have been given and Istanbul was decorated with many different and ambitious buildings. Sergios and Bakhos Church is one of these works.
The building is in the form of an almost square asymmetric rectangle.The main dome, which covers the top of the columns placed in an octagon in the rectangular structure, is supported by four half arches and four half domes, thus expanding the interior space of the building. Thanks to this semi-dome model, which was used for the first time, an extra width was provided in the interior, and the transfer of the weight of the large domes to the semi-domes on the side paved the way for larger main domes. In this respect, the Little Hagia Sophia can be regarded as a small-scale trial of the “Big” Hagia Sophia, which will be built a few years later. The half-domed model, which proved its success with a monumental structure such as Hagia Sophia, influenced Turkish architecture after the conquest of Istanbul and formed the basis of the domed image, which is the hallmark of our mosques today. Before the conquest of Istanbul, Turkish mosque architecture was based on relatively small diameter domes placed on a square structure. When a large mosque was desired to be built, some of these buildings were brought side by side, in other words, the building would be covered with many domes arranged side by side. Turkish architects, who started to use half domes after the influence of Hagia Sophia and therefore the Little Hagia Sophia, built gigantic main domes and dome waterfalls consisting of half-domes descending by supporting each other, just like in Süleymaniye Mosque. Likewise, the octagonal structure where the dome of the Little Hagia Sophia is placed was used in many works by Turkish architects, especially Mimar Sinan.
How do you get to Little Hagia Sophia?
Although there are different means of reaching to the Little Hagia Sophia where is one of the religious symbols and one of the most visited points of İstanbul, the easiest ways of transportation to the mosque are as follows:
By Public Transportation:
You can easily reach the the Little Hagia Sophia Mosque in Fatih district of Istanbul by public transportation vehicles which go to the Yeni Kapı ferry direction and to the Sultan Ahmet Mosque. Buses depart from Eminönü go to these places regularly.
Transportation by Your Own Car:
You can easily reach by following the signs of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque in order to go with your private car. In addition, you can reach the mosque when you take the first left after leaving the Sultan Ahmet exit by passing the Yeni Kapı ferry terminal from the coastal road.
The the Little Hagia Sophia can be visited from 10 am to 6 pm every day, but is closed to visitors during prayer times. No entrance fee is required for Little Hagia Sophia Mosque, but you can make some donations fort he mosque before you leave.
Like all the other mosques around the world, while visiting the Little Hagia Sophia mosque, you should wear modest and conservative clothes. Men’s or women’s shorts or sleeveless shirts are not worn. At the most popular mosques in Istanbul (such as the Blue Mosque), if your regular clothes are not suitable for entering the mosque, the staff can provide you with dresses to wear during your visit. Women should wear trousers or elbow-length or long sleeves bare shoulders or upper sleeves are not permitted and a headscarf. For women wearing a lightweight long-sleeved jacket or a hooded jacket can be really useful. You can lift the hood when you enter the mosque and you don’t need a hijab! Men must wear long trousers and sleeves, too. In any case, shoes are not important as you will take them off before entering the mosque.
Best time to visit
If you are not a Muslim who comes to pray, avoid visiting the mosque at the time of prayer, that is, within half an hour after the call for prayer is recited from the minarets. The times determined according to sunrise and sunset change daily as the days get longer or shorter. You shouldn’t visit there until Friday afternoon when lots of Muslim men go there for Friday Prayer. In short, if the mosque is busy with worshipers, it is polite to return to visit later. All mosque visitors, Muslim and non-Muslim, take off their shoes before stepping on mosque rugs. This is a practical necessity, not a religious one: Muslim worshipers kneel down while praying and have their foreheads touched to the carpet so they want to keep the carpets clean. Speak quietly, move slowly, and turn off the flash on your camera if you’re taking photos. It is polite to ask permission before taking pictures of people because taking pictures of people in prayer is not something kind. In addition, you shouldn’t walk in front of worshipers while they are praying, so walk around or behind them. Worshipers who miss the specified prayer times can complete their prayers later and be at the mosque when you visit as well.
According to legend, Justinian and his uncle Justin, who were mentioned in a conspiracy against Emperor Anastasius, were saved from execution when Saints Sergios and Saint Bachios, who entered the emperor’s dream, told Anastasius that they had nothing to do with the assassination. Justinian, who became emperor after his uncle, also built a church in his name as a sign of his gratitude to the saints: Sergius & Bacchus Church.
Some of the interior decorations of The Little Hagia Sophia, were damaged during the iconoclasma period in the 9th century and were repaired in the same century. Little Hagia Sophia got the real damage during the Latin Invasion of 1204, like all the other Orthodox churches.
Fatih the Conqurer did not turn the church into a mosque after the conquest of Istanbul. The Little Hagia Sophia was transformed into a mosque by Hüseyin Ağa during the reign of Sultan Bayezid II. According to some sources this date is 1497 and according to others it is 1504. In the meantime, the madrasa, fountain, minaret and muezzin gallery were added to the building and some additional windows have been opened in order to make the inside of the building brighter.
The Little Hagia Sophia Mosque, which was severely damaged in the earthquakes of 1648 and 1763, was extensively renovated in 1831. Little Hagia Sophia was also badly damaged in the 19th century due to the railway passing near it. There is a camellia and handicraft exhibition in the garden of the sanctuary, which underwent a major restoration between 1936 – 1938 and in 1955 during the Republic period.
The Little Hagia Sophia, is located in a very close location to the Marmara Sea. In the early Byzantine period, there were the Justinianus Harbor and the Hormisdas Palace near the building. The courtyard of the building was in common use with the adjacent Petrus and Paulus Church. About 25 m south of the Little Hagia Sophia Mosque, built close to the Great Palace building group, there are the Marmara coast walls, about 180 m northeast of the Hippodrome which was built between the 2th and 4th centuries and about 200 m east of the Bukoleon Palace which was built in the 5th century.
The streets around the mosque have old names like Nakilbent, Çardaklı Fırın, Kapı Ağası, Hünkâr Peşrevi, Aksakal, and Suz-i Dilara. Each name of these streets has a story or a meaning. Sultan Selim III (1761-1808), who was a Sultan interested in music a lot, created a musical mode that is named as Suz-i Dilara. These streets are covered with low wooden buildings that were built during the Ottoman period. The restored buildings make the scenery of the neighborhood more lively and authentic , and also attract tourists to the small boutique hotels and pensions around the mosque.
Further Information and Tips
According to some muezzins, the historical heritage of the mosque was lost as a result of the renovation. Only in one corner of the mosque there is a small part of the mosque, which has not been repaired and has been taken into cover so that you can have an idea of the old situation. Outside of the mosque, there is a section where old Ottoman Tombs and heads of tombstones are exhibited. This part of the mosque makes you think about the real meanings of life and death, even if it takes a few minutes.
It is necessary to dive into the distance with the sound of reed flute surrounding the courtyard and penetrate the smell of old Istanbul into the lungs. Finally, you should enter the tea garden of Little Hagia Sophia and sit in the garden, take a deep breath and relax. When you come here, you should not leave without enjoying the delicious apple tea. While we are sipping your tea, on the other hand, you may find yourself dreaming about the sceneries of old İstanbul and smelling the fresh air that comes from the old wooden buildings and streets surrounding around you.