Hagia Sophia. Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia

Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia Photo © alexecheandiaosb.blogspot.com

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Hagia Sophia

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	Sophia, Istanbul at dusk - Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul at dusk - Hagia Sophia. Photo by David Spender
Hagia Sophia, a great architectural beauty is considered as a significant monument for both the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires. From church, mosque to finally being a museum, Hagia Sophia has always been a significant building of its time.

Hagia Sophia was originally built by Constantine the Great (Wikipedia Article) in the 4th century. Unfortunately, today nothing original remains of this great building, but there is still plenty to experience and explore in this great historical building which was rebuilt again, over the period of time.

A Brief History of Hagia Sophia

The building has served as a church for 916 years, and as a mosque for 481 years. Since the year 1934, it has served as a museum. This makes the history of Hagia Sophia a very unique one indeed.

The beginnings of Hagia Sofia went way back in 390 A.C. As a church, it was devoted to Divine Wisdom. However, after it was burnt and fallen to rubble in 404 A.C, a bigger church was built by Theodosius at the same place. The building was put down again in 532 A.C during the Nika riots (Wikipedia Article) against the Emperor Justinian. It was under his orders that Hagia Sophia started to rebuild, supervised by the architects Isidorus and Anthemius of Miletus and Tralles respectively.

Hagia Sophia - Hagia
Hagia Sophia - Hagia Sophia. Photo by Brian Suda
During the fourth crusade in the year 1204, Hagia Sophia went through plunder. The crusaders removed all the images systematically with religious associations from the building. After Sultan Mehmet won Constantinople in 1453, he ordered his people to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque. It was then that Hagia Sophia began its alteration into a mosque, and the Minarets and Mihrab (Wikipedia Article) were added to its architecture, in addition to the Islamic Calligraphy.

Hagia Sophia didn't go through any major changes for the next five centuries. However, in the year 1934, President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk ordered it to be turned into a museum. The Hagia Sophia has undergone numerous victory ceremonies and coronation during the Byzantine history. Many fugitives and criminals have also been sheltered here.
Besides undergoing various transformations in its makeup, it has been desolated by riots, fires, earthquakes, but it endured everything and stands today as one of the greatest buildings in the world.

Hagia Sophia - Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia. Photo by Clint

What to Explore at the Hagia Sophia?

	Sophia - Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia - Hagia Sophia. Photo by Dirk Heitepriem
The building has got a classical cathedral plan. The building’s main ground plan is rectangular in shape, having 70 m wide and 75 m long dimensions. The entire area of the building is covered by a central dome, having a diameter of 31 meter

Four sections of masonry triangular in shape, set the circular dome base on a rectangular base. The main dome of the building is carried on pendentives, with each one decorated with seraphim (Wikipedia Article). The dome seems to float on the great arches, passing through pendentives to 4 massive piers at the corners.

The arched openings are enhanced by semi-domes at the eastern and western points. The flat wall on the side of the interior is known as tympanum, with each one having twelve large windows in 2 rows, 5 in the upper and 7 in the lower.

There are beautiful stone cannon balls that line the path of the outer courtyard, just outside the entrance. These are also the cannonballs that were used by the conqueror, Mehmed, in his victorious battle in the year 1453 for the city. There is polychrome marble, white and green in color with gold mosaics and purple porphyry. You will find simple stucco walls revealing the clarity of domes and massed vaults on the exterior.

There is Islamic calligraphy that you can explore in addition to the Christian mosaics. The 8 painted names on the wooden medallions include: Allah and His Last Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H), the four Islamic caliphs in order Abu Bakr, Umer, Usman and Ali; and finally Prophet Muhammad’s (P.B.U.H) two grandsons, Hassan and Hussein.

	Sophia at Sunrise. - Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia at Sunrise.. Photo by Maynard and Glinda

Christ, Deësis mosaic
	(bust), Hagia Sophia - Hagia Sophia
Christ, Deësis mosaic (bust), Hagia Sophia - Hagia Sophia. Photo by Steven Zucker


You can also explore the Byzantine mosaics that are still gradually being uncovered today. For the ones at the higher levels of the gallery, you have to pay some fee. This also means that the Muslims will not experience a lot of Christian imagery, especially in the main areas of the building as Hagia Sophia retains equipment of a mosque, serving as a mosque for almost 500 years.

During the time Hagia Sophia served as a worship place for Christians and Muslims both, its main focus was towards the east end, directly across the entrance. This is why most of the interesting sights of the building are grouped in this area of Hagia Sophia.

Most of the sights at the ground level date back to the Islamic period. There is a mihrab made of a stunning marble in the apse, a niche used for indicating the direction of Holy Kabba in Makkah. There is also a large stairway located to the right of mihrab known as a pulpit or Minbar, from which sermons are given. Grandsultan’s loge, built by the Fossati brothers is located to the left of the mihrab.

Mosaic with the emperor
	at the feet of Christ the Pantocrator, roundels with the Virgin Mary and Archangel Gabriel, Hagia Sophia - Hagia
Mosaic with the emperor at the feet of Christ the Pantocrator, roundels with the Virgin Mary and Archangel Gabriel, Hagia Sophia - Hagia Sophia. Photo by Steven Zucker
Looking upwards from this area, you can see a magnificent apse mosaic representing the Virgin and Child. There is also a mosaic of Archangel Gabriel located on the right.

The famous mosaics of Hagia Sophia are in its galleries, on the upper floor. The South Gallery presents all the great mosaic, and was once used for church councils. During the time, the building served as a mosque, its galleries served as a sitting place for the women during the worship services. Today, these galleries offer the nave’s clear view from all sides to its visitors. It also offers a close view of some of the best mosaics of the Byzantine.

Deesis Mosaic is the best known mosaic and is the first one that you can explore when entering the South Gallery. This Mosaic depicts Kingly Christ and a triumphant, flanked by the Baptist John and the Virgin Mary. There are also two other Byzantine mosaics located at the South Gallery’s end. The modern exit of Hagia Sophia is done through Vestibule Warriors. This is where the bodyguards waited when he prayed. You will also find a spectacular mosaic of the Virgin with Justinian and Constantine. The mosaic probably dates back to the 10th century.

Turkey-3019 - Hagia Sophia - Hagia Sophia
Turkey-3019 - Hagia Sophia. Photo by Dennis Jarvis

Things to Explore Outside Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia - Hagia
Hagia Sophia - Hagia Sophia. Photo by Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho
In addition to the interesting interior and exterior of Hagia Sophia, there are many other interesting things that you can explore outside of it. The church baptistery, the Sultans’ three mausoleums, and the remains of Theodosius’ Hagia Sophia are some of the things that must also be explored when visiting Hagia Sophia.

How to Get There?

It remains open the entire week, except Mondays, from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM. You can easily get here by either walking or catching a tram up Divan Yolu.

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Author: Khadija. Last updated: May 26, 2015


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