Hagia Sofia, which is Greek for The Church of Holy Wisdom, is a museum that had once been a church and a mosque, and is located in the Turkish city of Istanbul. Grand as the edifice is, its history is the stuff that legends are constructed of.
The Hagia Sophia isn’t just one of Turkey`s national treasures, but one of the best monuments of the world. Its rich heritage and breathtaking beauty hold magnetic charms for the history buffs, the art connoisseurs and the lay tourist alike.
The Hagia Sophia have been a church for 916 years, a mosque for 481 years and since 1934, it is playing the type of a museum. It has a history that can, at best be referred to as being unique.
The Hagia Sofia had its beginnings in a humble looking wooden roofed basilica way back in 390 A.D. The church was dedicated to Hagia Sophia or the Divine Wisdom. The church, then generally known as Megale Ecclesia or The Great Church, was burnt and reduced to rubble in 404 A.D.
At its site, Theodosius built an even bigger church. This building was again destroyed in the Nika Revolt of 532 A.D against Emperor Justinian. Under his orders, and supervised by architects Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus, the Hagia Sophia began to be rebuilt in that year itself.
The 4th Crusade of 1204 saw the plunder of the Hagia Sophia. The iconoclastic crusaders systematically eradicated all images with religious connotations from the Hagia Sophia.1453 was a watershed year in the already battered good reputation for Hagia Sophia.
Sultan Mehmet, after winning over Constantinople, in the year 1453, ordered the Hagia Sophia to be turned into a mosque. Hagia Sophia, or, The Church of the Divine Wisdom, thus began its metamorphosis into a mosque.
Minarets, from which the summon cries for the daily prayers are issued; the Mihrab, an alcove in the wall facing Mecca and the member, which is a platform for the rendering of sermons, were the typically Islamic inclusions in the Hagia Sophia. Eight wooden plates bearing Islamic calligraphy are amongst other such add-ons.
The following five centuries did not witness any major makeovers for the Hagia Sophia, until 1934, when the erstwhile Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk ordained that it be henceforth turned into a museum, open to all and sundry.
Through the Byzantine history, the Hagia Sophia stood witness to numerous coronation and victory ceremonies. It has also sheltered many a fugitive and criminal.
Known as Sancta Sophia in Latin and Ayasofya in Turkish, the Hagia Sophia is one of the greatest buildings in the world. It had a tumultuous past, being ravaged by fires, riots and earthquakes apart from undergoing frequent transformations in character. It has endured all and today, stands tall as the most abiding symbol of Istanbul`s skyline.
The Hagia Sophia is now an imposing structure with a diameter of 31-33 meters and goes up to a height of 54 meters. Its looks have constantly been changed through the ages. The Hagia Sophia began its journey as a blink-and-you-miss wooden roofed structure. Under Emperor Justinian`s rule, the Hagia Sophia was rebuilt to all its glory and splendor, as architects Anthemius and Isidorus wove their magic on the massive structure.
The church was converted from a traditional rectangular format to a where you started. The chief architects then crowned the structure with a massive dome, crafted entirely out of hollowed bricks, produced from lightweight clay imported from Rhodes. There’re innumerable windows at the base of the dome through which light streams in and floods the interiors. .
The interiors of the Church glistened and glittered with fragile golden mosaic tiles illustrating Christian figurines and scenes. The church`s architectural style showed a confluence of the Roman and the Byzantine building modes.
When under the orders of Sultan Mehmet, the church was converted into a mosque, the original church makeup underwent radical and some permanent transformations.
On the outside of, minarets and buttresses forever changed the look of the church, during the within, according to the Islam religion, all figurines were either ripped off or covered up. Huge plates, called lehvas emblazoned with calligraphy were also installed.
Because this spirit of fanatic iconoclasm waned, new mosaic tiles were installed in the Hagia Sophia. Now there are about 30 million of such ornate mosaic tiles inside the building.
Religious and regal matters were depicted in these mosaics. For instance, one mosaic shows Virgin Mary in the royal company of emperors Justinian and Constantine. In still another one, Jesus Christ is sited on a throne and a king is kneeling before him. There is an exquisite gold mosaic tile showing Madonna and Child.
Portraits too have been painted on the mosaics, the topics being the members of the royal family. Efforts are now underway to restore the mosaic tiles to their former radiance.
The Hagia Sophia grounds are dotted with tombs, a fountain and manicured gardens. Breathtaking as its interiors are, you’ll be greeted with still more beauty and grandeur if you look outside.
The changing looks of the Hagia Sophia bear testimony to the alterations in the Turkish political arena.