Little Hagia Sophia (Küçük Ayasofya Camii), a former Greek Orthodox church during the Byzantine period, currently functions as a mosque. Hagia Sophia Museum, Chora Mosque (Church of St. Saviour and Chora), and Fethiye Mosque (Pammakaristos Church) were other important Byzantine churches in Istanbul that were converted into mosques which are now museums. The original name of Little Hagia Sophia was “The Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus” which was dedicated to two young saints: St. Sergius and St. Bacchus.
The Church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus was built in 536 CE by Justinian I, who also built Hagia Sophia, Underground Cistern, and many other important landmarks. Therefore, Justinian I is also called “Justinian the Builder.”
Architecture of Little Hagia Sophia church is unique and not similar with Hagia Sophia. The structure has an octagonal nave inscribed within an irregular rectangle and is covered by 17 meters diameter umbrella dome.
The church was converted into a mosque in 1513, sixty years after the conquest of Constantinople. Transformation of the church was commissioned by Hüseyin Ağa, who was the Chief Eunuch of the Topkapı Palace in the first quarter of the sixteenth century. Today, the temple functions as a mosque and welcomes visitors everyday except prayer times.
Although it is a mosque, the interior of the mosque has an Ancient Greek inscription from Byzantine period praising Justinian and his wife Theodora.
According to Procopius, who was a historian during the 6th century CE: “By the originality of its architecture and the sumptuousness of its carved decoration, ranks in Constantinople second only to St. Sophia itself.”
Legend says that, before becoming emperor, young Justinian was going to be put death for organizing a revolt against his uncle - Emperor Justin. One night before Justinian’s execution, Saints Sergius and Bacchus appears to Emperor Justin and urges him not to kill Justinian. Subsequently, Justin does not kill his nephew Justinian and a few years later Justinian becomes emperor in 527 CE. As soon as he becomes emperor he commissions this church and dedicates to Saints Sergius and Bacchus.
Unique architectural plan of the Little Hagia Sophia Mosque was repeated in San Vitale Church in Ravenna that was built in 547 CE. In addition, for the construction of Rüstem Paşa Mosque, famous Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan was inspired from Little Hagia Sophia Mosque, because they both have the shape of an octagon inscribed in an irregular quadrilateral. Rüstem Paşa Mosque was built in 1563 by Architect Mimar Sinan and its patron was Süleyman the Magnificent’s Grand Vizier Rüstem Paşa.
Little Hagia Sophia Mosque (Küçük Ayasofya Camii) is just west of Sultanahmet. To get there follow the street starting at the southwest corner of the Blue Mosque (Küçük Ayasofya Street). The mosque is at the end of the street on your left. It is five minutes walking distance from the Blue Mosque.
The mosque is open from 10 AM - 6 PM every day, but is closed to visitors during prayer times. There is no entrance fee for Little Hagia Sophia Mosque, but donations are welcome.
Little Hagia Sophia is very close to the ruins of the Boukoleon Palace that was a summer palace of the Byzantine emperor between the fifth and thirteenth centuries.