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The Hagia Sophia

An Icon of Architectural Mastery

By afifaPublished 7 months ago 3 min read
The Hagia Sophia
Photo by Ibrahim Uzun on Unsplash

The Hagia Sophia, also known as Ayasofya, ranks prominently among Istanbul's most renowned and captivating historical landmarks. This venerable structure, often referred to as the "church of divine wisdom," holds a storied history that began with its grand inauguration by Emperor Justinian on the 26th of December in the year 537. Over the centuries, it underwent significant transformations, evolving from a Christian cathedral into a magnificent mosque in 1453 following the Ottoman conquest, and later, in 1934, being reimagined as a museum.

Regarded as one of the most exceptional architectural marvels the world has ever witnessed, the Hagia Sophia is especially celebrated for its awe-inspiring and monumental dome. Its construction is a testament to the heights of engineering and artistic achievement during the Byzantine era, making it an iconic embodiment of Byzantine architectural excellence. Indeed, the Hagia Sophia stands as an enduring symbol of both the historical and architectural legacy of Istanbul and continues to captivate the hearts and minds of all who gaze upon its majestic presence.

Religious Structure to be erected on Precise Location:

The current Hagia Sophia stands on the same spot as two earlier versions. The first was built in 360 as a traditional basilica but burned down in 404 during a riot. The second was constructed in 405 but was destroyed in 532 during the Nika riots. Today, you can still see some marble blocks from it in the garden nearby.

Surprisingly, Emperor Justinian decided to build the current Hagia Sophia shortly after the second one was destroyed. He aimed to make it bigger and more impressive than its predecessors, leaving a lasting legacy of his dedication.

By Zen zeee on Unsplash


Emperor Justinian's grand cathedral, with the world's largest dome at the time, left me in awe when I entered. The dome was 31.24 meters wide and 55.6 meters high, once adorned with 30 million gold mosaic tiles, now inscribed with Koranic text. It seemed weightless thanks to 40 arched windows below.

The original dome collapsed in 558 but was restored with lighter materials, and candles made it glow at night. Over time, it received further reinforcements after events like the 859 fire and earthquakes in 869 and 989.ith two of them designed by the architect Sinan, making a matching pair.

By Adis D. on Unsplash

Other changes included big candles near the mihrab that Suleiman the Magnificent brought from Hungary, eight round calligraphic decorations, a special gallery for the sultan, a minbar, two large Hellenistic urns, a school, a library, and a fountain for washing before prayers.


Following the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the Republic's founder and first president, converted the Hagia Sophia into a museum. Remarkably, during renovations in the 19th century, hidden beneath layers of plaster, stunning interior mosaics were unexpectedly uncovered and have since been undergoing a gradual process of restoration.

Among these surviving Byzantine mosaics, the first can be admired above the Imperial Gate, depicting Christ seated on a throne with an emperor kneeling beside Him.

On the ground floor, one can also marvel at the exquisite mosaic portraying the Virgin with Constantine and Justinian. This mosaic portrays Mary seated on a throne, cradling the infant Jesus and accompanied by two of the city's most illustrious emperors.

A ramp guides visitors from the ground floor to the gallery, where an array of mosaics await, featuring Emperor Alexander holding a skull, the Virgin holding Christ with Emperor John II Comnenus and Empress Irene, Christ in the company of Emperor Constantine IX Monomachus and Empress Zoe, the Virgin with the infant Jesus, archangels Gabriel and Michael, various saintly portraits, mosaic, and the mesmerizing six-winged seraphim.

By Fatih Yürür on Unsplash

Mosque Again:

In July 2020, a Turkish court canceled Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's 1934 decision to convert the mosque into a museum. This allowed President Erdoğan to issue a decree to transform the UNESCO World Heritage site, Hagia Sophia, back into a mosque. Consequently, management of the site shifted from the Ministry of Culture to the Presidency of Religious Affairs. It opened for prayers on Friday, July 24.

MedievalWorld HistoryPlacesNarrativesGeneralDiscoveriesAncient

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