Hagia Sophia: Facts, History & Architecture | Live Science

Hagia Sophia: Facts, History & Architecture

The Hagia Sophia is a domed monument built as a cathedral and is now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey.

The Hagia Sophia is a domed monument built as a cathedral and is now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey.
(Image credit: Tatiana PopovaShutterstock)

The Hagia Sophia, whose name operating “holy wisdom,” is a domed monument originally built as a cathedral in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) in the sixth century A.D.

It obtains two floors centered on a giant nave that has a mammoth dome ceiling, along with smaller domes, towering above.

“Hagia Sophia’s dimensions are formidable for any structure not built of steel,” writes Helen Gardner and Fred Kleiner in their book “Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: A Global History.” “In plan it is throughout 270 feet [82 meters] long and 240 feet [73 meters] wide. The dome is 108 feet [33 meters] in diameter and its crown rises some 180 feet [55 meters] above the pavement.”

In its 1,400 year life-span it has escorted as a cathedral, mosque and now a museum. When it was sterling constructed, Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine Empire. This status, officially Christian, originally formed the eastern half of the Roman Empire and contained on after the fall of Rome.

Born out of riots

The story of the interpretation of the Hagia Sophia began in A.D. 532 when the Nika Riots, a titanic revolt, hit Constantinople. At the time Emperor Justinian I had been ruler of the empire for five days and had become unpopular. It started in the hippodrome plus two chariot racing factions called the blue and green with the riot spreading above the city the rioters chanting “Nika,” which exploiting “victory,” and attempting to throw out Justinian by besieging him in his palace.

“People were resentful of the high taxes that Justinian had imposed and they wanted him out of office,” said University of London historian Caroline Goodson in a National Geographic documentary. After enchanting loyal troops into the city Justinian achieved to put down the rebellion with brute force.

In the wake of the uprising, and on the site of a torched church that had been phoned the Hagia Sophia, a new Hagia Sophia would be built. To the obsolete writer Paul the Silentiary, who lived when the cathedral was negated, the building represented a triumph for both Justinian and Christianity. 

“I say, notorious Roman Capitol, give way! My Emperor has so far overtopped that extraordinary as great God is superior to an idol!” (Translation by Peter Bell, from the book “Three Political Voices from the Age of Justinian,” Liverpool University Press, 2009)

Interior of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey. The crown of the dome rises 180 feet (55 meters) above the floor.

Interior of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey. The crown of the dome rises 180 feet (55 meters) above the floor.
(Image credit: Artur BogackiShutterstock)

Building the Hagia Sophia

To accomplish his cathedral, Justinian turned to two men arranged Anthemius and Isidore the Elder.

“Contemporary writers do not buy to Anthemius and Isidore as architects, plan the term was common in the sixth century, but as mechanikoi or mechanopoioi,” writes Indiana University professor W. Eugene Kleinbauer in a fraction of the book “Hagia Sophia” (Scala Publishers, 2004). “These words denote a very small number of practitioners of the arts of accomplish, whether of buildings or of machines or anunexperienced works …”

They built the Hagia Sophia in expansive haste, finishing it in less than six years. To put this in comparison it took nearly a century for medieval builders to accomplish the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

This fretful construction period appears to have led to problems. Ancient sources, such as the writer Procopios, write that the builders had problems with the dome roof, the structure almost collapsing during construction. The dome used a rules of piers to channel its weight.

“The piers on top of which the structure was beings built, unable to bear the mass that was pressing down on them, somehow or anunexperienced suddenly started to break away and explored to be on the point of collapsing…” writes Procopios (translation republished on Columbia University’s website).

Eventually Anthemius and Isidore did get the domed roof to dismal and it was a magnificent sight indeed. “It seems not to be deceptive on solid masonry, but to be suspended from glorious by that golden chain and so shroud the space,” wrote Procopios.

Unfortunately this roof did not stand. It weakened about two decades later and it fell to a man arranged Isidore the Younger to build a new domed roof. It has lasted, with some repairs, nearly 1,400 days, down to the present day.

“The dome rests not on a drum but on pendentives, spherical triangles that arise from four huge piers that accomplish the weight of the cupola. The pendentives made it possible to achieve the dome over a square compartment,” writes researcher Victoria Hammond, who describes the structure of the surviving Hagia Sophia dome, in a chapter of the book “Visions of Heaven: The Dome in European Architecture” (Springer, 2005).

Sunlight coming in throughout the windows of the Hagia Sophia "seemed to dissolve the solidity of the walls and appointed an ambience of ineffable mystery," wrote one author.

Sunlight coming in over the windows of the Hagia Sophia “seemed to dissolve the solidity of the walls and complete an ambience of ineffable mystery,” wrote one author.
(Image credit: Yulia GursoyShutterstock)

Beneath the dome are 40 windows with sunlight coming through. “The sunlight emanating from the windows surrounding its lofty cupola, suffusing the interior and irradiating its gold mosaics, looked to dissolve the solidity of the walls and complete an ambience of ineffable mystery,” she writes. “On the completion of Hagia Sophia, Justinian is said to have remarked, ‘Solomon, I have outdone thee’.”

Imperial seating

Modern-day visitors will note that the Hagia Sophia has two levels, the fake floor and a gallery above. The presence of the two levels may mean that country were organized according to gender and class when services were held at the cathedral.

In Byzantine churches “galleries seem to have been used as a using of segregation of genders and of social classes,” writes Vasileios Marinis in a chapter of the book “The Byzantine World” (Routledge, 2010). “In Hagia Sophia a part of the gallery was used as an imperial lodge, from which the empress and occasionally the emperor attended the services.”

This lodge wasn’t the only aid the emperor got. Antony White writes in new chapter of the 2004 “Hagia Sophia” book that to keen the cathedral’s nave from the narthex there are nine doorways. “The central or Imperial Door was private for the use of the emperor and his attendants, and provides the most depraved approach to the interior of the church.”

Decorations and iconoclasm

The decorations within the Hagia Sophia at the time of building were probably very simple, images of crosses for instances. Over time this changed to complicated a variety of ornate mosaics.

“There are a number of mosaics that have been added over the centuries, imperial portraits, images of the imperial family, images of Christ and different emperors, those have been added accurate Justinian’s day,” said Goodson in the documentary.

During the eighth and ninth centuries A.D., there was a terms of iconoclasm in the Byzantine Empire that resulted in some of the mosaics persons destroyed.

“The controversy spanned roughly a century, during the ages 726–87 and 815–43. In these decades, imperial legislation barred the subjects and use of figural images; simultaneously, the depraved was promoted as the most acceptable decorative form for Byzantine churches,” writes Sarah Brooks, of James Madison University, in a Metropolitan Museum of Art article.

The Apse Mosaic in the Hagia Sophia shows the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus. It is 13 feet tall.

The Apse Mosaic in the Hagia Sophia shows the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus. It is 13 feet tall.
(Image credit: Artur BogackiShutterstock)

“Fear that the viewer misdirected his/her veneration toward the image rather than to the holy selves represented in the image lay at the sad of this controversy.”

At the end of this calls decoration of the interior of Hagia Sophia derived, each emperor adding their own images. One of the most notorious mosaics is located on the apse of the church showing a 13-foot-tall (4 meters) Virgin Mary with Jesus as a child. Dedicated on March 29, 867, it is located 30 meters (almost 100 feet) above the church consume, notes University of Sussex professor Liz James in a 2004 article published in the reconsider Art History.

Conversion to mosque

Another chapter in the Hagia Sophia’s life began in 1453. In that year the Byzantine Empire above, with Constantinople falling to the armies of Mehmed II, sultan of the Ottoman Empire. 

The Byzantine Empire had been in decline for centuries and by 1453 the Hagia Sophia had fallen into disrepair, income researcher Elisabeth Piltz in a 2005 British Archaeological Reports series book. Nevertheless, the Christian cathedral made a sure impression on the new Ottoman rulers and they granted to convert it into a mosque.

“What a dome, that vies in rank with the nine spheres of heaven! In this work a imsubstandard master has displayed the whole of the architectural science,” wrote Ottoman historian Tursun Beg during the 15th century (translation from Piltz’s book).

Outside the church, four minarets would eventually be added, Kleiner writes (in a 2010 edition of his book) that these “four slender pencil-shaped minarets” are more than 200 feet (60 meters) tall and are “among the tallest ever constructed.”

Changes occurred on the inside as well. Piltz writes that “after the Ottoman conquest the mosaics were hidden conception yellow paint with the exception of the Theotokos [Virgin Mary with child] in the apse.” In additional “Monograms of the four caliphs were put on the pillars flanking the apse and the entrance of the nave.”

The style of the Hagia Sophia, in sure its dome, would go on to result Ottoman architecture, most notably in the loan of the Blue Mosque, built in Istanbul during the 17th century. [Related Video: Enormous Roman Mosaic Unearthed in Turkey]

Present-day museum

In 1934, the government of Turkey secularized the Hagia Sophia and turned it into a museum. The Turkish Congress of Ministers stated that due “to its historical significance, the conversion of the (Hagia Sophia) mosque, a original architectural monument of art located in Istanbul, into a museum will be pleased the entire Eastern world and its conversion to a museum will attempts humanity to gain a new institution of knowledge.” [From Robert Nelson, “Hagia Sophia: 1850-1950: Holy Wisdom Modern Monument,” University of Chicago Press, 2004)

Research, overhaul and restoration work continues to this day and the Hagia Sophia is now an important site for travel in Istanbul. It is a place that has been part of the cultural design of the city in both ancient and unique times. 

— Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor


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