While Istanbul is known for its large mosques like Hagia Sophia, the smaller ones tend to be well worth a visit as well since they are just as beautiful in their own right. Küçük Ayasofya Camii, also known as Little Hagia Sophia (LHS), is one such mosque. The building was originally built as an Eastern Orthodox church and was converted to a mosque during the Ottoman Empire – it remains a mosque today.
LHS was built in the 6th century by Emperor Justinian early in his reign. Some believe it was built to be a model for Hagia Sophia, hence the name Little Hagia Sophia. The building is located in a quiet neighbourhood in the district of Fatih. It actually isn’t too far of a walk from Sultanahmet. In fact, it is only about a 15-20 minute walk from the Blue Mosque/Hagia Sophia area so people really have no excuse not to go see it.
Istanbul was conquered in 1453 but initially, LHS was left alone. Then, in the early 16th century, it was turned into a mosque. Over the years, LHS sustained damage caused by various earthquakes and humidity; it was also apparently used as housing for refugees during the Balkan Wars. In the early 2000s, extensive renovations took place to restore the mosque. However, because it is still a functioning mosque, the Byzantine gold designs, the mosaics, and the marble details remain plastered over. It is a simple building, but it is that exact simplicity which makes it beautiful. If you are interested in seeing a structure that features both church and mosque details, check out “Big” Hagia Sophia. It is now a museum so no religious customs remain in what should be covered and what shouldn’t.
Arriving at LHS, there is a portico and a court with a garden, a fountain, and some shops. To the side of the mosque itself, there is a small cemetery featuring Ottoman style tombstones. Inside, LHS is two stories and unlike some bigger mosques, one can go into the second story of the building. The simplicity of the Ottoman-style structure is refreshing after the riot of details found in other Byzantine era buildings. Though, not all Byzantine details have been eradicated or hidden – there are still some marble columns and Greek lettering carved into marble scattered around LHS.
Not many people seem to visit LHS which meant that I had the place almost to myself. It was lovely to be able to wander around admiring the geometric paintings, admiring the light patterning itself against the walls and carpet, and looking at the trees through the big windows. There is no fee to visit LHS as it is a still functioning place of worship and of course, the same etiquette rules hold (don’t forget your head covering/wear appropriate clothing).
Are there other smaller mosques that are worth visiting besides Rustem Pasha and Little Hagia Sophia?