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Hagia Sophia -- Christian basilica and Islamic mosque -- one of the greatest architectural wonders of antiquity
- Istanbul - at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East
Arial shot of Istanbul, Turkey with the Bosphorus waterway running through the city. The left is Europe and the right is Asia. I stood at the door of the airplane in the cold night air and cautiously looked down the stairway. There at the bottom of..
One of the most modern and beautiful cities in the world is Istanbul, Turkey and the reason this city is so interesting is because it is both a western and an eastern city. It is European and it is Asian. It is Christian and it is Islamic. And bridging the gap between the western Christian and the eastern Islamic religions is the beautiful and magnificent Hagia Sophia. It was built first as an Orthodox patriarchial basilica, later it became a mosque and today it is a museum. It has had quite a history.
It is also the first mosque I had ever seen, although it has been approximately thirty years ago. I was awed by the structure both outside and inside. It was just as lovely as a mosque as it was a basilica.
The Hagia Sophia is also known by the names Aya Sofya (Turkish) and Sancta Sophia (Latin). Sophia is a Greek word that translates to wisdom, and so the name of the edifice is also called the Church of the Holy Wisdom or Church of the Divine Wisdom.
It was built in Constantinople (today Istanbul) in the 6th century (532-537) under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. It is the most important Byzantine structure and one of the world's greatest monuments. The original church on the site is said to have been built by Constantine I in 325 on the foundations of a pagan temple. This church burned down in January of 532 and Justinian I saw an opportunity to build a greater edifice and a splendid replacement in a basilica.
The Hagia Sophia became the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople and the religious focal point of the Eastern Orthodox Catholic church for nearly one thousand years.
The structure now standing is the original building. There was a partial collapse of the dome in an earthquake in the year 558, but the dome was restored in 562. By the mid fourteenth century the building went through a complete restoration.
During the years 1204-1261, the basilica was convernted to a Roman Catholic church under the Latin Empire. The church was dedicated to the Logos, the second person in the Holy Trinity. (Jesus Christ) Throughout the basilica are many, many beautiful mosaics, made of beautiful and colorful tiles depictiing Christ's life and family.
It was also the location of the start of the Great Schism in 1054 between the western and eastern Catholic churches. Here Cardinal Humber excommunicated Michael I Cerularius in this basilica.
In 1204, the basilica was looted by the Venetians and the Crusaders during the Fourth Crusade.
In 1453, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks and under Sultan Mehmed II the building was converted into a mosque. Mehmed had the altar and sacremental vessels removed from the building and had the mosaics plastered over as icons and pictures in a mosque are against Islamic law. He had four minarets built on the four corners of the building as these towers are to call the Islamic faithful to prayer five times a day. In the interior he had a great chandelier installed, a mihrab which is a niche indicating the direction of Mecca, a minbar which is a pulpit and disks bearing Islamic calligraphy.
It was known as Aya Sofya during Mehmed's rule and was the first imperial mosque of Istanbul. The candelsticks on either side of the mihrab were brought by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent from his conquest of Hungary.
During the Ottoman rule, the Aya Sofya was a model for many of the other Ottoman mosques such as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (the Blue Mosque) also in Istanbul and quite near the Hagia Sofia.
Kemal Ataturk secularized the building in 1934 and in 1935 he made it into the museum it is today. The mosaics have been uncovered again and are the main source of knowledge about the state of mosaic art in the 8th and 9th centuries.
The Architecture of the Hagia Sophia
The architecture of the Hagia Sophia is quite unique and amazing. For the time it was built it was an architectural masterpiece and it remains so today. It combines a longitudinal basilica and a centralized building in a wholly original manner. The huge 105 foot (32 metre) main dome is supported by pendentives (first ever used here) and two semi-domes, one on either side of the longitudinal axis. The building is almost square.
It has three aisles separated by columns with galleries above and great marble piers rising up to support the dome. The walls above the galleries and the base of the dome are filled by stain glass windows which in the glare of daylight hide the supports and give the impression that the dome is a canopy floating on air. Along the stained glass windows are inscriptions in Arabic.
The two architects of the Hagia Sophia were Greek scientists; Anthemius of Tralles was a mathematician and Isidorus Miletus was a physicist. Justinian had eight Corinthian columns disassembled from Baalbel, Lebanon and shipped to Constantinople for construction of the Hagia Sophia.
The interior is a complex structure. The nave is covered by a central dome that rests on an arcade of forty arched stain-glass windows. The western entrance side and the eastern liturgical side have arched openings extended by the half domes of identical diameter to the central dome. These are carried on in smaller semi-domed exedras. There is a hierarchy of dome-headed elements built up to create a vast oblong interior crowned by the central dome
The dome of the Hagia Sophia
The cupola is carried on four spherical triangular pendentives that implement the transition from the circular base of the dome to the rectangular base below. This was the ingenious architecture of the two architects and had never been done before anywhere in the world. This design restrained the lateral forces of the dome and allowed its weight to flow downwards. It seems as if the dome floats between the arches.
The weight of the dome remained a problem for most of the buildings existence. It was reinforced with buttresses during the Byzantine and Ottoman times. The north and south side of the dome are original because of the earthquake damage.
The dome is famous for its mystical quality of light that reflects everywhere in the interior of the nave and gives the appearance of the dome hovering over it. The unique design was the most advanced and ambitious monument of late antiquity.
I appreciate the structure and architecture of the dome, but what catches my eye and I loved the most at the Hagia Sophia were the beautiful tile mosaics. Most of them are upstairs on the second floor of the gallery. They depict the life and times of Jesus Christ. There is the beautiful mosaic above the western entrance or the emperor's entrance that you don't want to miss. Below are some of the most beautiful mosaics in the Hagia Sophia. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
Hagia Sophia Mosaics
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