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Church of Hagia Sophia – A visual architecture experience

Updated on August 24, 2012

The Hagia Sophia

Church of Hagia Sophia Constantinople

Church of Hagia Sophia is considered as the best monument on the Byzantine model (historical style). This magnificent piece of architecture was built by the Emperor Justinian. Church of Hagia Sophia is the turning point in the emperor’s vast architectural campaign. The church was built as the new Cathedral of Constantinople. The plan of the astonishing building was put forward by Justinian himself. The church is not built upon the normal basilical plan. It has, however, adopted the centralized pattern. The present building involves a cross basilica and three altars.

Admirers of Church of Hagia Sophia believe that the miraculous powers have preserved the church over the centuries, surviving all the human and natural disturbances. The church still remains as a proud heritage of the symmetrical architecture of that period. It is the most extraordinary architectural piece in the Golden Byzantium period and whole architectural history. The building remained as the most precious possession of the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire (when it was turned into a mosque). The forms and decorations of the great building served its role as a great church (and were later altered to serve as a mosque).

History of Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia Facts

The name Hagia Sophia, Hagia means divine and Sophia refers to wisdom. The glorious Church of Hagia Sophia is thus devoted to the divine wisdom (of Christ Jesus). The church remained as the heart of the empire of Justinian I. The church was later converted into a mosque when Istanbul was captured by the Turks. From then onwards the church was considered as a great mosque, having four gigantic minarets. The mosaic walls were plastered, the floor was carpeted and the pulpit was transferred to the southern part. Hagia Sophia remained as a mosque till it was turned as a museum by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. From then onwards the building remained for the world heritage. Visitors were also allowed and in 1940s, the building was reopened as a museum.


Hagia Sophia architecture

Hagia Sophia dome - Church of Hagia Sophia is a splendid red big building having a marvelous dome. The church building is big and majestic. After crossing the main gate, the visitors need to pass through two separate entrances (narthexes). We can find a huge bronze gate (belonging to Justinian I) at the second entry hall. This main imperial gate that led to the church was exclusively for the emperor to get into the church. We can also find a mosaic above the gate which is the legacy of the 9th century. We can find the majestic figure of Jesus Christ with the Blessed Virgin on one side and the Angel Gabriel on the other side. The image of Emperor Leo VI is also depicted in mosaic. The ceiling looks beautiful being covered with floral mosaics. The ramp is found at the left end of the endonarthex which takes to the galleries in the mezzanine floor.

Hagia Sophia interior

Hagia Sophia design

The interior of the Church of Hagia Sophia is vast and splendorous. The whole structure is enveloped with a big central dome. This dimension of this gigantic dome is 56 m., 150 feet high, 33 m., 72 feet diameter. Arabic calligraphic writings adorned the giant dome during the Ottoman rule. Green and purple colored columns support the building. Purple was the sacred color of the Byzantium period. The emperors of the Byzantium rule used to wear purple costumes and were even buried in purple attires. Inside the church we can find the "Coronation Square" belonging to the Byzantium Emperors. Hagia Sophia Church was also the venue of the coronation of the Byzantine Emperors. "Library of Mahmud I" is also found at the right side of the church (belonging to the Ottoman period). The church faced east when it served as an Orthodox church. The beautiful nave of the church was adorned with gigantic candlesticks and stain-colored glass when the church was turned into a mosque. We can find the pulpit at the left side of the nave. We can also find the “Lodge of the sultan" at the left side of the nave. This lodge served as the secret prayer room for the Ottoman rulers. This was built by the Italian Fossati Brothers who added several new structures to the building when the church was restored in the nineteenth century. Moving forward, we would be amazed at the mosaic at the apse depicting Christ and Mary. The mosaic is fully original and belongs to the ninth century.

In order to be at the mezzanine floor galleries we need to climb the beautiful ramp. Three beautiful mosaic pieces adorn these areas. The first mosaic sheet that depicts "the Deesis" the judgment day is placed at the southeast part of the main church. We can find Jesus Christ in the middle part with Mary at the right and John the Baptist at the left. The mosaics are out of small pieces and this makes it appear like a picture. The image is too clear that we can even recognize the cheek color and the wrinkles of John the Baptist. The left piece is occupied by Emperor Monomachos IX and Zoe, his wife. The middle piece depicts Jesus. In the fourth piece we can find Empress Irene and Emperor Komnenos II and Mary with baby Christ. Finally when we move to the left end of the church we can find the striking mosaic piece on the apse showing Blessed Virgin and child Jesus Christ. A person moving through this magnificent work of ancient literature (especially through the building interiors) would of course wonder at the majesty of the marvelous architecture of the Byzantium period.

The wonderful architectural beauty of buildings like Hagia Sophia has always fascinated me. A visit to Hagia Sophia generated an interest in me to study architecture and explore the possibilities in architectural field.


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    • dhannyya profile image

      dhannyya 6 years ago

      thank you Cyndi

    • Cyndi10 profile image

      Cynthia B Turner 6 years ago from Georgia

      Interesting information. The description are very vivid which makes me want to find more pictures. Thanks you for the information.