The Hagia Sophia, which has an important place in art history with its magnificence and functionality, is one of the most prominent monuments in the history of architecture. Converted to a museum in 1935, Hagia Sophia continues to amaze millions of people, domestic and international, ever since.
Hagia Sophia Has Been Constructed 3 Times in the Same Location
The Hagia Sophia, the biggest church constructed by the East Roman Empire in Istanbul, has been constructed three times in the same location throughout history. Hagia Sophia was the place in which rulers were crowned, and it was also the biggest operational cathedral of the capital throughout the Byzantine period.
The first church was constructed by Emperor Konstantinos in 360, and until the 5th century it was named Megale Ekklesia which means “Big Church“. After the 5th century, it was referred to as the Hagia Sophia which means “Holy Wisdom”. The “sophia” in its name comes from the ancient Greek word sophos, meaning “wisdom“. The church was burned down after the public riot that took place in 404, and no remains have been recovered to this day. The second church was reconstructed by the Emperor Theodosios II in 415, and was demolished in 532 after the public riot known as Nika Revolts in history.
The Hagia Sophia that is still standing today was constructed by Isidoros of Miletos and Antheminos of Tralles, who were renowned architects of their time, by Emperor Justinianos orders. The construction began in 532 and the church was opened to worship in 537. During the Fourth Crusade both Istanbul and Hagia Sophia were damaged. After Fatih Sultan Mehmed conquered Istanbul in 1453, Hagia Sophia was renovated into a mosque. The structure was fortified and well protected after this period. Additional supporting pillars were installed during the East Roman and Ottoman periods as a result of the damage that the structure experienced due to the earthquakes in the region.
The minarets designed and implemented by Mimar Sinan have also served to this purpose.
Hagia Sophia’s Architectural Pieces Were Selected with Care
The best architectural pieces were used in the Hagia Sophia’s construction so that it would be bigger and grander. The columns and marbles used in the structure have been taken from ruins of ancient cities in Anatolia and Syria, such as Aspendos, Ephesus, Baalbeek and T arsa. The white marbles used in the structure came from the Marmara Island, the green porphyry from Egriboz Island, the pink marbles from Afyon and the yellow ones from North Africa. Hagia Sophia has a total of 104 columns, 40 in the lower and 64 in the upper gallery. All the walls of the Hagia Sophia, except for the ones covered by marble, have been decorated with exceptionally beautiful mosaics. Gold, silver, glass, terra cotta and colorful stones have been used to make these unique mosaics, many of which are still standing today, protected throughout history.
During the 16th and 17th century mihrabs, minbar, a muezzin mahfili, a preachment stand and maksoorahs were added to the structure. The bronze lamps on two sides of the mihrab have been given as gifts to the mosque by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent after his return from Budin in 1536. The two marble cubes dating back to Hellenistic period on both sides of the main entrance have been specially brought from Bergama and were given by Sultan Murad III as gifts. Between 1847 and 1849, an extensive renovation in the Hagia Sophia was conducted where Hunkar Mahfili located in a niche in the northern section was removed, and another one rising on columns and surrounded by wooden gilded railings towards the left of the mihrab was built.
During the renovation, 8 pieces of 7,5m diameter calligraphy panels, which are known to be the biggest calligraphy panels in the Islamic world, were placed in the main walls of the structure. The panels that read “Allah, Hz. Muhammed, Hz. Ebubekir, Hz. Omer, Hz. Osman, Hz. Ali, Hz. Hasan and Hz. Huseyin” were written by Calligrapher Kadiasker Mustafa Izzet Efendi.
Characteristics of Each Structure Are Different
Structural features of Hagia Sophia, which was constructed three separate times, are different. The first church was covered with a wooden roof and expanded vertically (basilica). although no remains have been recovered from the first church, the bricks found in the museum storage branded ‘Megale Ekklesia’ are predicted to belong to the first construction. The second church contained five naves and a monumental entrance covered by a wooden roof, and was a basilica like the first church. Remains found during the excavations led by the Istanbul German Archeology Institute in 1935, include steps belonging to the Propylon (monumental entrance), column bases and ornate frieze pieces with lamb embossings that represent the Twelve Apostles. Other architectural pieces that belong to the monumental entrance can be seen in the west garden. The third Hagia Sophia construction combined the traditional basilical plans with the central dome plan in design.
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