The Hagia Sophia, built as an Orthodox Christian cathedral in 537 CE, was a mosque under Ottoman rule after 1453. It became a museum after the founding of modern Turkey in 1935. Prior to the completion of the Seville Cathedral in 1520, Hagia Sophia was the largest church in the world for about 900 years. It attracts over 3 million tourists a year. It has been standing for over 1400 years.
It was converted to a museum by the first President of Turkey, Mustafa Kamal Ataturk. Totally amazing is the fact that the church has been destroyed twice by riots. First built in Constantinople in 360 CE and dedicated by the Roman Emperor Constantius II (son of Constantine, the founder of Constantinople), the initial, wood-constructed Hagia Sophia burned during a series of riots in 404 CE. In 415 CE, Emperor Theodosius II ordered the church rebuilt, but the Nika Revolt in 532 CE caused widespread death and destruction in the city, and the church was wiped out a second time.
Located in the Eastern Roman Empire region known as Byzantium, Constantinople was ruled for 38 years by the Emperor Justinian, starting in 527 CE. Five years after the Nika Revolt and the church’s destruction, Justinian inaugurated the newly rebuilt Hagia Sophia, the most important religious structure in his empire, on December 27, 537 CE.
It has gone by several names: Initially called the Great Church (Megale Ekklesia in Greek, Magna Ecclesia in Latin) because of its immense size, the second incarnation of the church came to be known by the name Hagia Sophia around 430 CE. Its Greek meaning, “Holy Wisdom,” remained after the church was rebuilt a century later. After conquest by the Ottomans it was called Ayasofya, and today it is the Ayasofya Müzesi.
One of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World was used in its construction. To fortify (and beautify) the interior of the church, columns from the long-abandoned and destroyed Temple of Artemis in Ephesus were used for the Hagia Sophia. Additional building materials may also have come from ancient sites in Baalbeck and Pergamom. Its creators were two of the most respected minds of their day: Anthemius of Tralles, an engineer and a mathematician and Isidorus of Miletus, an architect.
Sophia means wisdom in the Greek language. Fully translated, Hagia Sophia means Shrine of the Holy God. The alter, bells, and sacrificial vessels were all removed when it was converted into a mosque. Hagia Sophia has 40 windows in the area where worshipers sit and it’s known as famous reflecting mystical light. When the dome of Hagia Sophia was placed, walls began to lean outward because of the weight. Then walls to support to dome were built.
It’s dimensions of 82 meters long and 73 meters wide, sporting a dome 33 meters in diameter with a crown that rises 55 meters from the ground level is formidable at its time of construction. The massive dome is held up by spherical triangles that arise from four huge piers that carry the weight of the cupola. To create an air of sanctity, 40 windows beneath allow sunlight to suffuse the interior and irradiate the gold mosaics. It was built in a little over five years, whereas Notre Dame took a hundred! Those French workers!
Temples are not my thing, though I thoroughly enjoy places like Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and St. Basil’s in Moscow. Once I a while, I just have to take a small step toward religion, and away from my preconceived notions of religious fervor and the fact that ma
ny of these places were built with slave labor (not the Aya).
Amen! Or is it assalamualaikum?