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 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 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.