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Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia (means Holy Wisdom), which is considered as one of the eight wonders of the world,
also occupies a prominent place in the history of art and architecture. It is one of the rare works of
this size and age that has survived to our day. The church (called Ayasofya in Turkish) is erroneously
known as Saint Sophia in the west. The basilica was not dedicated to a saint named Sophia, but to
Divine Wisdom. Hagia Sophia is an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985

This was the site of a pagan temple, and the three separate basilicas built here in different times
were all called by the same name. Although no churches were built during the reign of Constantine
the Great, some sources maintain that the first Hagia Sophia basilica was built by him. Actually, the
first small basilica with a wooden roof was constructed in the second half of the 4th century by
Constantinius, the son of Constantine the Great.

This church burnt during the riots in 404, and a second and larger basilica that replaced it was
inaugurated in 415. During the bloody uprising of 532 that broke out at a chariot race in the
Hippodrome, ten thousands of the inhabitants of the city were killed and numerous building

The Hagia Sophia church was among the structures burnt during this so-called "Nika" revolt which was
directed against Emperor Justinian.

When Justinian finally suppressed the revolt, he decided to build a house of worship "the like of
which has not been seen since Adam, nor will it be seen in the future." Construction started in 532
over the remains of the previous basilica and it was completed in five years. In the year 537,
elaborate ceremonies were organized for the dedication of this largest church of Christendom. The
emperor spared no expense for his church and placed the state treasury at the disposal of the
architects, Antheius of Tralles and mathematician Isidorus of Miletus. The design of the dome
followed in the tradition of Roman architecture, and the plan of the basilica was even older. Round
buildings had been successfully covered with domes before. But in Hagia Sophia, Justinian was
attempting for the first time in the history of architecture to build a gigantic central dome over a
rectangular plan.

During the reign of Justinian, Hagia Sophia was a manifestation of refinement and pomp, but in later
eras it turned into a legend and a symbol.

Because of its dimensions which could not be surpassed for the next thousand years and the financial
and technical difficulties involved in its construction, people believed that such a building could not
have been achieved without the assistance of supernatural powers. Although Hagia Sophia is a 6th
century Byzantine work, it is an "experiment" in the Roman architectural tradition that has neither a
predecessor nor a duplicate. The contrast between the interior and the exterior and the large dome
are legacies of Rome. The outer appearance is not elegant; it was built as a shell, without much care
for proportions. On the other hand, the interior is as splendid and captivating as a palace. As a whole,
it is an "imperial" structure.

During the dedication ceremony, the emperor could not suppress his excitement. He entered the
church in a chariot, thanked God, and shouted that he had outdone King Solomon.
The basilica developed into a large religious center with tall buildings surrounding it. The scene was
now set for the clashes between the Byzantine emperors and the Eastern Church that would last for

In time the side walls kept leaning outwards and the original low dome collapsed in 558. The second
dome to be constructed was much higher and reduced in diameter, but almost half of this dome also
collapsed twice, in the 10th and 14th centuries. Vast sums were spent in all ages for the upkeep of
Hagia Sophia. The immediate restorations undertaken after the Turkish conquest in 1453 to convert it
into a mosque saved this beautiful building. Among the major restorations at later times were the
buttresses built by Turkish architect Sinan in the 16th century, the restoration by the Fossafi brothers
in mid-19th century, and the repairs including the fortification of the dome with iron bands after 1930.
Existing modern portable metal scaffolding will make future restoration work easier.

After serving two different religions with the same god, 916 years as a church and 482 years as a
mosque, Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum on Ataturk's orders. Between 1930 and 1935
the whitewash on the walls was cleaned to reveal mosaics, which are among the most important
examples of Byzantine art.