In Pictures: Hagia Sophia's Roman and Ottoman Legacy

In Pictures: Hagia Sophia's Roman and Ottoman Legacy
The Hagia Sophia, after being turned into a mosque, will hold its first prayers on July 24, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Standing the test of time, Hagia Sophia is significant culturally, architecturally and historically

Simrran Gill
July 13 , 2020
02 Min Read

Hagia Sophia, a Unesco world heritage site, was recently stripped of of its museum status and will be turned into a mosque, again. It was first built as a cathedral in the 6th century under the rule of Justinian I of the Byzantine empire. This stunning architectural piece in Constantinople—or modern day Istanbul—was the brainchild of Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus. 

The columns and ceiling of the structure

The marble for the floor and ceiling comes from Anatolia (present-day eastern Turkey) and Syria, and the bricks from North Africa. Eight purple porphyry columns that stand under semi domes were brought from Egypt. And eight green columns were imported from the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. 

A Byzantine mosaic from the 13th century inside Hagia Sophia

The original church, ordered to be built by Constantine I, lay on the foundations of a pagan temple. Since then, the cathedral has withstood two fires, and a partial collapse of the dome due to an earthquake, and has been rebuilt to a smaller scale.

The Hagia Sophia was rebuilt on a smaller scale. An aerial shot of the structure. 

During a siege and loot by Doge Enrico Dandolo, the chief magistrate of the Republic of Venice, many golden mosaics were also taken back to Italy. The cathedral was also subjected to iconoclasm (attacking or rejecting beliefs or institutions, destruction of religious images) twice and mosaics and paintings were destroyed, taken away or plastered over. 

Mosaic of a six winged biblical angel which was plastered over shortly after Ottoman conquest in 1453

After the Ottoman conquest in 1453, the restoration of the 900-year-old building began and it was repurposed as a mosque. It was modified with the addition of a wooden minaret on the outside, a mihrab (niche, indicating the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca), and a minbar (pulpit, where the imam stands). The original mosaics were whitewashed and Islamic designs and calligraphy were juxtaposed.

Islamic calligraphy inside the Hagia Sophia

After the founding of modern day Turkey with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as its first president, Hagia Sophia was turned into a museum, to secularise the iconic monument.  

Over the years, the structure came to be known by different names: Megale Ekklesia (meaning Great Church), Hagia Sophia (meaning Holy Wisdom) Ayasofya (after the Ottoman conquest) and Ayasofya Muzesi, respectively. 

The interior of the dome and the ceiling

The Pantheon in Rome is the only structure in the world that has a (slightly) bigger dome than Hagia Sophia. The monument has also served as the inspiration for the Blue Mosque and Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul. 


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