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Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey
Hagia Sophia or Αγια Σοφια (Greek, "Holy Wisdom", not "Saint Sophia" except in mistranslation) was the cathedral of Constantinople (today's Istanbul, Turkey). The first great church on the site was built by Constantius, the son of Constantine the Great, but was burned down during the Nika riots of 532. The building was rebuilt in its present form in 532 - 537 under the personal supervision of emperor Justinian I. It was very important to the "Roman" Catholic Church, and later, early Orthodox Christianity and the Byzantine Empire, and is a prime example of Byzantine architecture. Of great artistic importance was its decorated interior with mosaics and marble pillars and coverings. The temple itself was so richly and artistically decorated that Justinian is believed to have said Νενίκηκά σε Σολομών (Solomon, I have surpassed you!).

The Interior of Hagia Sophia, showing temporary scaffolding and newly-cleaned mosaicscirca 1994

Its architects were Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, professors of geometry at the University of Constantinople. Justinian's great basilica was at once the culminating architectural achievement of late antiquity and the first great masterpiece of Byzantine architecture. Its influence, both architecturally and liturgically, was widespread and enduring.

Hagia Sophia is covered by a central dome 102 feet (31 m), across, larger than the Pantheon's. The dome seems rendered weightless by the unbroken arcade of arched windows tunder it, which help flood the colorful interior with light. The dome is carried on pendentives. These four concave triangular sections of masonry solved the problem of setting the circular base of a dome on a rectangular base. At Hagia Sophia the weight of the dome passes through the pendentives to four massive piers at the corners. Between them the dome seems to float upon four great arches.

At the west (entrance) and east (liturgical) ends, the arched openings are extended and by great half domes carried on smaller semidomed exedras. Thus a hierarchy of dome-headed elements build up to create a vast oblong interior crowned by the main dome, a sequence unexampled in antiquity.

In fact, "its first dome fell after an earthquake, and its replacement (in 563, with a higher profile than the original) had to be repaired after partial collapses in the ninth and fourteenth centuries." (Marvin Trachtenberg and Isabelle Hyman. Architecture: from Prehistory to Post-Modernism p, 171).

All interior surfaces are sheathed with polychrome marbles, green and white with purple porphyry and gold mosaics, encrusted upon the brick. On the exterior, simple stuccoed walls reveal the clarity of massed vaults and domes.

For over 900 years it was the seat of the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople and a principal setting for imperial ceremonies. .

Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque at the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II in 1453. Its rich figurative mosaics were covered with plaster. It was for almost 500 years the principal mosque of Istanbul. Hagia Sophia served as model for several of the great Turkish mosques of Constantinople.

After continuing as a mosque into the early years of the republic of Turkey, in 1934 under Ataturk it was secularized and turned into the Ayasofya Museum. Nevertheless, the colorful mosaics remained largely plastered over, and the building was allowed to decay. A 1993 UNESCO mission to Turkey noted falling plaster, dirty marble facings, broken windows, decorative paintings damaged by moisture, and ill-maintained lead roofing. Cleaning, roofing and restoration have since been undertaken. The exceptional floor and wall mosaics which had been cemented over in 1453 are now being gradually excavated.

External links


Rowland J. Mainstone, Hagia Sophia: Architecture, Structure, and Liturgy of Justinian's Great Church

Hagia Sophia is also the name of: