Hagia Sophia History, Architecture, Facts

Hagia Sophia is located in the heart of Historical Peninsula (former Constantinople). It’s considered as the most important historical monument in Istanbul. You can discover facts about the history and architecture of Hagia Sophia in this article.

facts about the history and architecture of Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia History, Architecture, Facts

From this point on, we will continue to share facts about the architecture and history of Hagia Sophia as questions and answers.

Where Is Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) Located?

Hagia Sophia is located in present day Istanbul, Turkey. The Hagia Sophia had been the main church of Constantinople (The capital of Byzantine Empire) for nearly 900 years.

Which Emperor Built The Hagia Sophia Church?

Justinian I, the emperor of Byzantine Empire built the Hagia Sophia, from 532 to 537. The church was completed in 5 years only. Considering the resources of 6th century and the size of the Church, this is unbelievably fast.

Who Were The Hagia Sophia’s Architects?

Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus. These two talented architects built the Church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) in five years. 10.000 unskilled workers and 1000 master worker engaged in the constrcution process of Hagia Sophia. The people worked day and night in order to complete the construction of the spiritual center of Constantinople.

What Is The Meaning of Hagia Sophia?

Hagia Sophia means Holy Wisdom. Hagia Sophia is not the first church in the same spot. Actually it’s the 3rd generation church. There had been a church named Megale Ekklesia (Great Church) in the same during the reign of Constantine. It was rebuilt by Theodosius II and called as Theodosian Hagia Sophia. Then the last one was built by Justinian in 6th century.

Hagia Sophia History and Facts
Church of Holy Wisdom

What Was The Original Purpose of the structure?

The previous church, Theodosian Hagia Sophia, was demolished by the mob during the famous Nika Revolt. This riot broke out against the emperor Justinian I in the Constantinople at the fifth year of his reign. Justinian was the longest reigning monarch in the history of Byzantium yet he was almost killed at the beginning of his reign.

The famous Byzantine general Belisarius saved the emperor from the hands of angry rebels. However, Belisarius, Narses and Mundus (Justinian’s generals) had to slaughter 30.000 people in the Hippodrome of Constantinople to put an end to this riot.

Emperor Justinian built the Hagia Sophia to consolidate his sovereignty. The Justinian’s new church was built on the top of the remnants of previous church. He intended his new church to be the most beautiful temple ever known. In other words, he wanted to surpass the fame of King Solomon’s legendary temple in Jerusalem.

According to a 9th Century document, upon the completion of Hagia Sophia, Justinian walked through the Imperial Gate and exclaimed “Solomon, I have surpassed you!”

Why Is Hagia Sophia Important for World architecture?

The architects of Hagia Sophia: Anthemius and Isidore faced a seemingly impossible challenge while they were creating the plans of Hagia Sophia. They had to turn a square into a circle. Roman architects had been struggling unsuccessfully for decades, trying to put a round dome, on top of a square structure.

The Pantheon‘s round dome, on its round base was thought to be the only way to build a dome; but Justinian was determind to put a massive dome on the top of a Christian basilica. Therefore Anthemius and Isidore invented entirely new architectural elements.

They initially began with the old workhorse of Roman architecture: the Roman arch; on the other hand they devised triangular shaped sections that fill in the gaps between the arches and the dome. These entirely new architectural element was named: the pendentive.

Hagia Sophia Architecture

Hagia Sophia Architecture
The Building

What is the building made out of?

With the seismic records of destruction that extends back 4000 years, and with countless building toppled all around it, why has Hagia Sophia not fallen? Because the architects built Hagia Sophia to withstand earthquakes.

The Anthemius and Isidore realized that the solid and rigid buildings with heavy walls, shaken apart by the earthquakes. They took a risk and tried a new building method.

They built Hagia Sophia with light and flexible materials. In order to accomplish this new building method, they created a new building material. The Anthemius, put a secret ingredient in the mortar of the Hagia Sophia: crushed brick.

Why did the Dome of Hagia Sophia Collapsed?

Justinian wanted to create the largest temple in the world. To fulfill his dream of creating the greatest temple in the world, Emperor Justinian had summoned the two brightest minds of Byzantine Empire: Anthemius and Isidore.

To make the task even more challenging, he wanted his church’s dome to be the biggest world has ever seen. Anthemius and Isidore had sleepless nights in order to create the unique plan of the church.

When completed the dome’s interior diameter of 108 feet (32 meters) made Hagia Sophia the largest dome building in the world. 6th Century writer Procopius states that the dome hovered as if suspended from heaven on a golden chain.

However this magnificent dome was not faultless, following a devastating earthquake that strikes Istanbul city in 558, the gigantic dome had collapsed alongside with the semidome of Hagia Sophia. Emperor Justinian was aggrieved by the damage. However the original architects both were dead.

He summoned the best architect of Byzantine Empire at the time: Isidore the Younger, the nephew of Isidore of Miletus (one of the original architects of the church).

The restoration work carried out by the Isidore the Younger successfully. He created a new dome that would last to modern times. Thanks to the genious of this architect, the dome of Hagia Sophia still stands.

History of Hagia Sophia

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Dome of Hagia Sophia

Is the Hagia Sophia still a Church or a Mosque?

The Hagia Sophia had been built as a church. It stayed as a church from 537 to 1453 (for nearly 900 years) As the Constantinople was captured by Ottoman Turks in 1453, it was converted into a mosque.

The Sultan Mehmed II of Ottoman Empire, adored the building and made the necessary renovations following the conquest. He knew about the history and significance of the building very well, therefore he did his best to protect it.

Ottomans never gave a harm to Hagia Sophia’s mosaics or decoration elements. Thank to this respectful approach, we are still able to enjoy the beauty of Byzantine mosaics. The Hagia Sophia stayed as a mosque from 1453 to 1930s. (nearly 500 years)

When did Hagia Sophia became a Museum?

The modern Turkey was formed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (1923) Following the collapse of Ottoman Empire after the World War I.

Ataturk made educational, legislative and cultural reforms as the first president of Turkish Republic. He introduced Latin alphabet to the folk. He also established the parliament of Turkey in Ankara. Ataturk gave comprehensive rights to the women and abolished the monarchy alongside with the caliphate.

The new Turkish Parliament, decided to convert Hagia Sophia into a museum. Because Hagia Sophia was representing both Christianity and Islam and should be considered as the common heritage of the world.

Byzantine Mosaics of Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia represents the artistic heritage of Byzantine Empire. Once the most important Church of Constantinople, it was adorned with the best examples of Byzantine art.

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Mosaics of Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia History and Facts by Serhat Engul

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Fantastic — Even though Hagia Sophia had been converted into a Mosque after the Turks conquered Constlantinoble in 1453 AD the Ottomon Turks did not destroy the original Christians mosaics, which have been kept in marvellous repair till today.
    I wish the Islamic League, who are now destroying everything Chritian and killing Christians of all ages in countries where they hold sway, would learn from this example.
    Thanks.
    Goa – March 2nd 2019.

    1. I have to say that I find it a very narrow minded perspective. I believe there is no Islamic League or monolithic Islamic world. A Muslim country (Syria or Iran) may become ally with Orthodox Christian Russia and Taoist China when circumstances demand it! Yet most religious country of the Middle East (Saudi Arabia) is getting along well with USA more than it does with any other Muslim country. Conflict of interest is the major motive behind most of the battles not the religion. (except for individual acts) Religion is just the excuse.

      And yes, Ottomans caused far less damage during the fall of Constantinople (1453) than the Crusaders had caused in the Sack of Constantinople (1204). Because Venetians were the rivals of Byzantines in the Eastern Mediterranean. They razed the Constantinople to the ground while they were supposed to march Jerusalem, to fight a holy war against Muslims. This is what I wanted to say while mentioning “conflict of interest”.

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