The Ottomans were as serious about their art and decoration in death as they were in life. Tucked around the back of Hagia Sophia, accessible through a separate side entrance, is a small courtyard ringed by several small buildings that look like mini mosques. From the outside, they don’t look that impressive, but once you step inside they’re every bit as opulent as the most ornate imperial Ottoman mosque.
These are the Tombs of the Sultans. And they’re remarkable not just for their lavish decorations, each of which is different, but also because it wasn’t just the Sultan who was laid to rest here in his green-shrouded sarcophagus. His family members joined him, laid alongside, with large sarcophagi for adults and small ones for children. So what you’re seeing here is an entire extended family.
The five tombs are those of:
- Sultan Selim II (reign 1566-1574)
- Sultan Murad III (reign 1574-1595)
- Sultan Mehmed III (reign 1595-1603)
- Sultan Mustafa I (reigns 1617-1618, 1622-1623)
- Sultan Ibrahim I (reign 1640-1648)
Süleymaniye the Magnificent, the longest-serving of the Ottoman Sultans, isn’t here. He has his own tomb behind Süleymaniye Mosque.
Photos of the Tombs of the Sultans at Hagia Sophia in Istanbul
What to Know Before You Go
- There’s a separate entrance from the main Hagia Sophia complex. The entrance, which isn’t especially well signed, is on the southeastern corner of Hagia Sophia, around the corner from the main entrance. It’s next to the tourist shops and on the same road that leads into the entrance to the Topkapi Palace (Kabasakal Cd).
- It’s closed Sundays and open on other days 9 to 5.
- It’s free, although you’ll have to go through the obligatory security checkpoint on the way in.
- It’s small. There are five tombs in a small courtyard. 30 minutes is plenty of time.
- You’ll have to remove your shoes before entering any of the tombs.
About the Tombs of the Sultans at Hagia Sophia
- The Tombs of the Sultans at Hagia Sophia are located in Istanbul, Turkey, in the historical complex of the Hagia Sophia mosque and museum.
- There are five sultan tombs in the Hagia Sophia complex, belonging to Ottoman Sultans and their family members.
- The tombs were constructed during the Ottoman era, after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, when Hagia Sophia was converted from a Byzantine cathedral into a mosque.
- The sultans whose tombs are in the Hagia Sophia complex include Sultan Selim II, Sultan Murad III, Sultan Mehmed III, Sultan Mustafa I, and Sultan Ibrahim.
- The tombs are characterized by their Ottoman architectural style, featuring domes, Iznik tiles, and intricate calligraphic inscriptions.
- The interiors of the tombs are lavishly decorated with floral and geometric motifs, as well as Quranic verses in calligraphy.
- Apart from the sultans, other family members, such as wives, children, and mothers, are also buried in these tombs.
- The tombs at Hagia Sophia have been restored and preserved throughout the years, with some undergoing extensive conservation efforts.
- The Tombs of the Sultans at Hagia Sophia are open to the public and can be visited as part of a tour of the Hagia Sophia complex.
- The group of tombs is not the only such resting place of sultans. Other notable sultan tombs in Istanbul include the tomb of Sultan Mehmed II, located near the Fatih Mosque, and the tomb of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, found within the Suleymaniye Mosque complex.
Want to Read More About Istanbul?
Istanbul is a city of extraordinary depth and history. If you’re looking to dive deeper, here are some books worth a look. (Some are also available as audiobooks—great for a long flight or train ride.)
Istanbul: Memories and the City, by Orhan Pamuk
In this memoir, the Nobel Prize-winning Turkish author reflects on his childhood and youth in Istanbul, offering a rich portrayal of the city’s history, culture, and ever-changing landscape.
The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain
This classic travelogue follows Mark Twain as he journeys through Europe and the Holy Land, including a visit to Istanbul, which he captures with his trademark wit and humor.
Strolling Through Istanbul: The Classic Guide to the City, by Hilary Sumner-Boyd and John Freely
This comprehensive guide and travelogue takes readers on a historical and cultural journey through Istanbul, detailing its most famous landmarks and hidden gems.
- Sumner-Boyd, Hilary (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
The Bridge on the Drina, by Ivo Andrić
This historical novel, by a winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, is set in the Ottoman Empire. It tells the story of the construction of the famous Mehmed Paša Sokolović Bridge in Višegrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the lives of the people who lived around it. While not set in Istanbul specifically, it offers a window into the wider region’s history and Ottoman influence.
A Fez of the Heart: Travels Around Turkey in Search of a Hat, by Jeremy Seal
This travelogue follows the author’s journey through Turkey, including a visit to Istanbul, as he explores the country’s history, culture, and politics, all while searching for the once-iconic fez hat.
- Seal, Jeremy (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
The Birds Have Also Gone, by Yashar Kemal
In this novel, set in Istanbul, the author tells the story of three boys who capture and sell pigeons in the city, offering a unique perspective on the city’s rapidly changing landscape and the challenges faced by its inhabitants.
The Towers of Trebizond, by Rose Macaulay
This satirical travelogue (i.e., a novel) follows the narrator as she embarks on an eccentric journey to Istanbul and the ancient city of Trebizond, exploring themes of love, religion, and the clash of cultures.
- Macaulay, Rose (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
Hagia Sophia Tombs of the Sultans FAQs
What is the Hagia Sophia Tombs of the Sultans?
The Hagia Sophia Tombs of the Sultans are the burial chambers of several Ottoman Sultans, located inside the Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. The tombs are decorated with beautiful Ottoman calligraphy, tile work, and mosaics.
Which Ottoman Sultans are buried in the Hagia Sophia Tombs?
The tombs of five Ottoman Sultans are located within the grounds of the Hagia Sophia Museum. They are: Sultan Selim II, Sultan Murad III, Sultan Mehmed III, Sultan Mustafa I, and Sultan Ibrahim I.
Are the Hagia Sophia Tombs open to visitors?
Yes, the Hagia Sophia Tombs are open to visitors as part of the Hagia Sophia Museum. Visitors can access the tombs with a separate ticket, which can be purchased at the museum entrance.
What is the dress code for visiting the Hagia Sophia Tombs?
Visitors are required to dress modestly when visiting the Hagia Sophia Tombs. Shorts, skirts, and dresses should cover the knees, and tops should cover the shoulders. Shoes must be removed before entering the tombs.
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Travel Advice for Turkey (Turkiye)
You can find the latest U.S. Department of State travel advisories and information for Turkey (Turkiye) (such as entry visa requirements and vaccination requirements) here.
The British and Australian governments offer their own country-specific travel information. You can find the British Government's travel advice for Turkey (Turkiye) here and the Australian Government's here.
Health & Vaccinations
The CDC makes country-specific recommendations for vaccinations and health for travelers. You can find their latest information for Turkey (Turkiye) here.
General Information on Turkey (Turkiye)
The CIA's World Factbook contains a lot of good factual information Turkey (Turkiye) and is updated frequently.
- Official Name: Republic of Turkey (Türkiye Cumhuriyeti)
- Location: Southeastern Europe and Southwestern Asia (the Anatolian Peninsula), bordered by eight countries: Greece and Bulgaria to the northwest, Georgia to the northeast, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Iran to the east, and Iraq and Syria to the south
- Coastline: Mediterranean Sea to the south, Aegean Sea to the west, and Black Sea to the north
- Capital: Ankara
- Largest City: Istanbul
- Population (2021 estimate): 85 million
- Ethnic Groups: Predominantly Turkish (70-75%), Kurds (19%), and other minorities (including Arabs, Circassians, and Laz)
- Official Language: Turkish
- Religions: Islam (predominantly Sunni), with small Christian and Jewish communities
- Government: Unitary parliamentary republic
- President (as of 2021): Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
- Prime Minister (as of 2021): Not applicable (the position was abolished in 2018)
- Area: 783,356 square kilometers (302,455 square miles)
- GDP (2021 estimate): $771 billion (nominal)
- GDP per capita (2021 estimate): $9,042 (nominal)
- Currency: Turkish Lira (TRY)
- Time Zone: GMT+3 (Turkey Time)
- Internet TLD: .tr
- Calling Code: +90
- Major Industries: Textiles, food processing, automotive, electronics, tourism, mining, steel, petroleum, construction, lumber, paper
- Natural Resources: Coal, iron ore, copper, chromium, antimony, mercury, gold, barite, borate, celestite, emery, feldspar, limestone, magnesite, marble, perlite, pumice, pyrites, clay, hydropower, arable land
Turkey vs Turkiye vs Türkiye
The country's name has traditionally been Anglicized as Turkey, and that's how most of us have always known it. But the country's government has been pushing for adoption of the Turkish-language name, Türkiye. Since that doesn't always work well on Anglicized keyboards, you also often see it rendered as Turkiye. You can find more information on this here.