Hagia Sophia is a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. From the date of its dedication in 360 until 1453, it served as the Greek Patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople of the Western Crusader established Latin Empire. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931, when it was secularized. It was opened as a museum on 1 February 1935.The Church was dedicated to the Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity, its dedication feast taking place on 25 December, the anniversary of the Birth of the incarnation of the Logos in Christ. Although it is sometimes referred to as Sancta Sophia (as though it were named after Saint Sophia), sophia is the phonetic spelling in Latin of the Greek word for wisdom – the full name in Greek being “Church of the Holy Wisdom of God”.
Famous in particular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have “changed the history of architecture.” It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520. The current building was originally constructed as a church between 532 and 537 on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and was the third Church of the Holy Wisdom to occupy the site, the previous two having both been destroyed by rioters. It was designed by the Greek scientists Isidore of Miletus, a physicist, and Anthemius of Tralles, a mathematician.
The church contained a large collection of holy relics and featured, among other things, a 49-foot (15 m) silver iconostasis. It was the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople and the religious focal point of the Eastern Orthodox Church for nearly one thousand years. It is the church in which Cardinal Humbert in 1054 excommunicated Michael I Cerularius – which is commonly considered the start of the Great Schism.
In 1453, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II, who subsequently ordered the building converted into a mosque. The bells, altar, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels were removed and many of the mosaics were plastered over. Islamic features – such as the mihrab, minbar, and four minarets – were added while in the possession of the Ottomans. It remained a mosque until 1931 when it was closed to the public for four years. It was re-opened in 1935 as a museum by the Republic of Turkey.
The first church was known as the “Great Church”, or in Latin “Magna Ecclesia”, because of its larger dimensions in comparison to the contemporary churches in the City. Inaugurated on 15 February 360 (during the reign of Constantius II) by the Arian bishop Eudoxius of Antioch, it was built next to the area where the imperial palace was being developed. The nearby Hagia Eirene (“Holy Peace”) church was completed earlier and served as cathedral until the Hagia Sophia was completed. Both churches acted together as the principal churches of the Byzantine Empire.Writing in 440, Socrates of Constantinople claimed that the church was built by Constantius II, who was working on it in 346. A tradition which is not older than the 7th – 8th century, reports that the edifice was built by Constantine the Great. Zonaras reconciles the two opinions, writing that Constantius had repaired the edifice consecrated by Eusebius of Nicomedia, after it had collapsed. Since Eusebius was bishop of Constantinople from 339 to 341, and Constantine died in 337, it seems possible that the first church was erected by the latter. The edifice was built as a traditional Latin colonnaded basilica with galleries and a wooden roof. It was preceded by an atrium. It was claimed to be one of the world’s most outstanding monuments at the time.The Patriarch of Constantinople John Chrysostom came into a conflict with Empress Aelia Eudoxia, wife of the emperor Arcadius, and was sent into exile on 20 June 404. During the subsequent riots, this first church was largely burned down. Nothing remains of the first church today.A second church was ordered by Theodosius II, who inaugurated it on 10 October 415. The basilica with a wooden roof was built by architect Rufinus. A fire started during the tumult of the Nika Revolt and burned the second Hagia Sophia to the ground on 13–14 January 532Several marble blocks from the second church survive to the present; among them are reliefs depicting 12 lambs representing the 12 apostles. Originally part of a monumental front entrance, they now reside in an excavation pit adjacent to the museum’s entrance. Discovered in 1935 beneath the western courtyard by A. M. Schneider, further digging was forsaken for fear of impinging on the integrity of the Hagia Sophia.On 23 February 532, only a few days after the destruction of the second basilica, Emperor Justinian I elected to build a third and entirely different basilica, larger and more majestic than its predecessors.
Justinian chose physicist Isidore of Miletus and mathematician Anthemius of Tralles as architects; Anthemius, however, died within the first year of the endeavor. The construction is described in the Byzantine historian Procopius’ On Buildings (Peri ktismaton, Latin: De aedificiis). The emperor had material brought from all over the empire – such as Hellenistic columns from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, large stones from quarries in porphyry from Egypt, green marble from Thessaly, black stone from the Bosporus region, and yellow stone from Syria. More than ten thousand people were employed. This new church was contemporaneously recognized as a major work of architecture. The theories of Heron of Alexandria may have been utilized to address the challenges presented by building such an expansive dome over so large a space. The emperor, together with the patriarch Eutychius, inaugurated the new basilica on 27 December 537 with much pomp. The mosaics inside the church were, however, only completed under the reign of Emperor Justin II (565–578).Hagia Sophia was the seat of the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople and a principal setting for Byzantine imperial ceremonies, such as coronations. The basilica also offered asylum to wrongdoers.Earthquakes in August 553 and on 14 December 557 caused cracks in the main dome and eastern half-dome. The main dome collapsed completely during a subsequent earthquake on 7 May 558, destroying the ambon, altar, and ciborium. The crash was due mainly to the too high bearing load and to the enormous shearing load of the dome, which was too flat. These caused the deformation of the piers which sustained the dome. The emperor ordered an immediate restoration. He entrusted it to Isidorus the Younger, nephew of Isidore of Miletus, who used lighter materials and elevated the dome by “30 feet” (about 6.25 metres (20.5 ft)) – giving the building its current interior height of 55.6 metres (182 ft). Moreover, Isidorus changed the dome type, erecting a ribbed dome with pendentives, whose diameter lay between 32.7 and 33.5 m. This reconstruction, giving the church its present 6th-century form, was completed in 562. The Byzantine poet Paul the Silentiary composed a long epic poem (still extant), known as Ekphrasis, for the rededication of the basilica presided over by Patriarch Eutychius on 23 December 562.In 726, the emperor Leo the Isaurian issued a series of edicts against the veneration of images, ordering the army to destroy all icons – ushering in the period of Byzantine iconoclasm. At that time, all religious pictures and statues were removed from the Hagia Sophia. After a brief reprieve under Empress Irene (797–802), the iconoclasts made a comeback. Emperor Theophilus (829–842) was strongly influenced by Islamic art, which forbids graven images. He had a two-winged bronze door with his monograms installed at the southern entrance of the church.The basilica suffered damage, first in a great fire in 859, and again in an earthquake on 8 January 869, that made a half-dome collapse. Emperor Basil I ordered the church repaired.After the great earthquake of 25 October 989, which collapsed the Western dome arch, the Byzantine emperor Basil II asked for the Armenian architect Trdat, creator of the great churches of Ani and Argina, to direct the repairs. He erected again and reinforced the fallen dome arch, and rebuilt the west side of the dome with 15 dome ribs. The extent of the damage required six years of repair and reconstruction; the church was re-opened on 13 May 994. At the end of the reconstruction, the church’s decorations were renovated, including the additions of paintings of four immense cherubs, a new depiction of Christ on the dome, and on the apse a new depiction of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus between the apostles Peter and Paul. On the great side arches were painted the prophets and the teachers of the church.In his book De caerimoniis aulae Byzantinae (“Book of Ceremonies”), Emperor Constantine VII (913–919) wrote a detailed account of the ceremonies held in the Hagia Sophia by the emperor and the patriarch.Upon the capture of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, the church was ransacked and desecrated by the Latin Christians. The Byzantine historian Niketas Choniates described the capture of Constantinople; many reputed relics from the church – such as a stone from the tomb of Jesus, the Virgin Mary’s milk, the shroud of Jesus, and bones of several saints – were sent to churches in the West and can be seen there now in various museums. During the Latin occupation of Constantinople (1204–1261) the church became a Roman Catholic cathedral. Baldwin I of Constantinople was crowned emperor on 16 May 1204 in Hagia Sophia, at a ceremony which closely followed Byzantine practices. Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice who commanded the sack and invasion of the city by the Latin Crusaders in 1204, is buried inside the church. The tomb inscription carrying his name, which has become a part of the floor decoration, was spat upon by many of the angry Byzantines who recaptured Constantinople in 1261. However, restoration led by the brothers Gaspare and Giuseppe Fossati during the period 1847–1849 cast doubt upon the authenticity of the doge’s grave; it is more likely a symbolic memorial rather than burial site.After the recapture in 1261 by the Byzantines, the church was in a dilapidated state. In 1317, emperor Andronicus II ordered four new buttresses (Greek:”Piramídas”) to be built in the eastern and northern parts of the church, financing them with the inheritance of his deceased wife, Irene. New cracks developed in the dome after the earthquake of October 1344, and several parts of the building collapsed on 19 May 1346; consequently, the church was closed until 1354, when repairs were undertaken by architects Astras and Peralta.
In 1453 Sultan Mehmed laid siege to Constantinople, driven in part by a desire to convert the city to Islam. The Sultan promised his troops three days of unbridled pillage if the city fell, after which he would claim its contents himself. Hagia Sophia was not exempted from the pillage, becoming its focal point as the invaders believed it to contain the greatest treasures of the city. Shortly after the city’s defenses collapsed, pillagers made their way to the Hagia Sophia and battered down its doors. Throughout the siege worshipers participated in the Holy Liturgy and Prayer of the Hours at the Hagia Sophia, and the church formed a refuge for many of those who were unable to contribute to the city’s defense. Trapped in the church, congregants and refugees became booty to be divided amongst the invaders. The building was desecrated and looted, and occupants enslaved or slaughtered; a few of the elderly and infirm were killed, and the remainder chained. Priests continued to perform Christian rites until stopped by the invaders. When the Sultan and his cohort entered the church he insisted it should be at once transformed into a mosque. One of the Ulama then climbed the pulpit and recited the Shahada.As written above, immediately after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Mehmed II converted Hagia Sophia into the Aya Sofya Mosque. As described by several Western visitors (such as the Córdoban nobleman Pero Tafur and the Florentine Cristoforo Buondelmonti), the church was in a dilapidated state, with several of its doors off; sultan Mehmed II ordered the cleanup of the church and its conversion. He attended the first Friday prayer in the mosque on 1 June 1453. Aya Sofya became the first imperial mosque of Istanbul. To the corresponding Waqf were endowed most of the existing houses in the city and the area of the future Topkapi Palace. Through the imperial charters of 1520 / 926H and 1547 / 954 H shops and parts of the Grand Bazaar and other markets were added to the foundation. Before 1481 a small minaret was erected on the SW corner of the building, above the stair tower. Later, the subsequent sultan, Bayezid II (1481–1512), built another minaret at the NE corner. One of these crashed because of the earthquake of 1509, and around the middle of the 16th century they were both replaced by two diagonally opposite minarets built at the E and W corners of the edifice.In the 16th century the sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520–1566) brought back two colossal candlesticks from his conquest of Hungary. They were placed on either side of the mihrab. During the reign of Selim II (1566–1577), the building started showing signs of fatigue and was extensively strengthened with the addition of structural supports to its exterior by the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, who is also considered one of the world’s first earthquake engineers. In addition to strengthening the historic Byzantine structure, Sinan built the two additional large minarets at the western end of the building, the original sultan’s loge, and the Türbe (mausoleum) of Selim II to the southeast of the building in 1576-7 / 984 H. In order to do that, one year before parts of the Patriarchate at the S corner of the building were pulled down. Moreover, the golden crescent was mounted on the top of the dome, while a respect zone 35 arsin (about 24 m) wide was imposed around the building, pulling down all the houses which in the meantime had nested around it. Later his türbe hosted also 43 tombs of Ottoman princes. In 1594 / 1004 H Mimar (court architect) Davud Aga built the türbe of Murad III (1574–1595), where the Sultan and his Valide, Safiye Sultan were later buried. The octagonal mausoleum of their son Mehmed III (1595–1603) und his Valide was built next to it in 1608 / 1017 H by royal architect Dalgiç Mehmet Aga. His Son Mustafa I (1617–1618; 1622–1623) let convert the Baptistery into his Türbe.Later additions were the sultan’s gallery, a minbar decorated with marble, a dais for a sermon and a loggia for a muezzin.Murad III had also two large alabaster Hellenistic urns transported from Pergamon and placed on two sides of the nave.In 1717, under Sultan Ahmed III (1703–1730), the crumbling plaster of the interior was renovated, contributing indirectly to the preservation of many mosaics, which otherwise would have been destroyed by mosque workers. In fact, it was usual for them to sell mosaics stones – believed to be talismans – to the visitors. Sultan Mahmud I ordered the restoration of the building in 1739 and added a medrese (a Koranic school, now the library of the museum), an Imaret (soup kitchen for distribution to the poor) and a library, and in 1740 a Sadirvan (fountain for ritual ablutions), thus transforming it into a külliye, i.e. a social complex. At the same time a new sultan’s gallery and a new mihrab were built inside.The most famous restoration of the Aya Sofya was ordered by Sultan Abdülmecid and completed by eight hundred workers between 1847 and 1849, under the supervision of the Swiss-Italian architect brothers Gaspare and Giuseppe Fossati. The brothers consolidated the dome and vaults, straightened the columns, and revised the decoration of the exterior and the interior of the building. The mosaics in the upper gallery were cleaned. The old chandeliers were replaced by new pendant ones. New gigantic circular-framed disks or medallions were hung on columns. They were inscribed with the names of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, the first four caliphs Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali, and the two grandchildren of Mohammed: Hassan and Hussain, by the calligrapher Kazasker Mustafa Izzed Effendi (1801–1877). In 1850 the architect Fossati built a new sultan’s gallery in a Neo-Byzantine style connected to the royal pavilion behind the mosque. Outside the Aya Sofya, a timekeeper’s building and a new madrasah were built. The minarets were altered so that they were of equal height. When the restoration was finished, the mosque was re-opened with ceremonial pomp on 13 July 1849.
In 1935, the first Turkish President and founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, transformed the building into a museum. The carpets were removed and the marble floor decorations such as the Omphalion appeared for the first time in centuries, while the white plaster covering many of the mosaics was removed. Nevertheless, the condition of the structure deteriorated, and the World Monuments Fund placed Hagia Sophia on 1996 World Monuments Watch, and again in 1998. The building’s copper roof had cracked, causing water to leak down over the fragile frescoes and mosaics. Moisture entered from below as well. Rising ground water had raised the level of humidity within the monument, creating an unstable environment for stone and paint. With the help of financial services company American Express, WMF secured a series of grants from 1997 to 2002 for the restoration of the dome. The first stage of work involved the structural stabilization and repair of the cracked roof, which was undertaken with the participation of the Turkish Ministry of Culture. The second phase, the preservation of the dome’s interior, afforded the opportunity to employ and train young Turkish conservators in the care of mosaics. By 2006, the WMF project was complete, though other areas of Hagia Sophia continue to require conservation.Today, use of the complex as a place of worship (mosque or church) is strictly prohibited. However, in 2006, it was reported that the Turkish government allowed the allocation of a small room in the museum complex to be used as a prayer room for Christian and Muslim museum staff. The museum’s hours are 9.30 am to 4.30 pm, Tuesday through Sunday; entry fee is 20 TL, or free with the use of a Museum Card.
Turkish fine arts photographer Ahmet Ertug’s close-up pictures of the restored mosaics can be viewed in the upper northern gallery of the Hagia Sophia in a permanent exhibition.
Hagia Sophia Wallpapers