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Hagia Sophia - Istanbul, Turkey
Hagia Sophia - Istanbul, Turkey
Home / Museums / Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) – Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) – Istanbul, Turkey

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agia Sophia ( from the Greek: Αγία Σοφία “Holy Wisdom“; Latin: Sancta Sophia or Sancta Sapientia; Turkish: Ayasofya) also called Church of the Holy Wisdom or Church of the Divine Wisdom was a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal basilica (church) built at Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) in the 6th century (532–537) under the direction of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. , later an imperial mosque, and is now a museum (Ayasofya Müzesi) in Istanbul, Turkey. From the date of its construction in 537 AD, and until 1453, it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted by the Fourth Crusaders to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire. The building was later converted into an Ottoman Mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931. It was then secularized and opened as a museum on 1 February 1935. Famous in particular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture.

Hagia Sophia means “Divine Wisdom” in Greek, this was an Orthodox church dedicated to holy wisdom, not to a Saint Sophia as some people wrongly call it today. Hagia Sophia is one of the greatest landmarks of the world and the most important structure of the Byzantine architecture located in Istanbul, Turkey. It still dominates Istanbul’s skyline as it has for 1,500 years and is one of the top symbols of Istanbul and Turkey.
Probably the most famous Tourist Attraction in Turkey, the Hagia Sophia is one of the best preserved ancient buildings in the world. With its remarkable architecture and beautiful mix of Byzantine and Muslim adornment, the Hagia Sophia remains among the most popular sights in Turkey.

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia

History

The first church of Hagia Sophia was built on the same site in the 4th century by Constantine the Great and renovated by his son Constantinus II in 360 AD. It was a small wooden church in Constantinople. Unfortunately, nothing remained from it because it was destroyed during a fire in 404 AD.

After the destruction, a second and larger Hagia Sophia was built at the same location in 415 AD by the emperor Theodosius II. This second church was also burned down during the Nika riots of 532 AD. Some of its columns, capitals, and the stairs can be seen today in the courtyard of the museum.

Finally, the third Hagia Sophia, the one that you can visit today, which is entirely fireproof, was built on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I between 532-537 AD over the remains of the previous basilica. The emperor spent almost all of his treasure, 10000 people worked in its construction under the supervision of two architects; Anthemius of Tralles (modern-day Aydin city) and Isidorus of Miletos. After completion, Justinian entered the church and he shouted “Solomon, I have outdone thee!”, referring to King Solomon. The church became the glorious symbol of the Byzantine Empire and the largest church of Christendom in the world.

The gigantic central dome over a rectangular plan was built using special bricks; 12 of them weighted as one regular. But it was still too heavy therefore this early dome collapsed during several earthquakes so a smaller one was built.
Marbles and columns taken from the remains of earlier civilizations from all parts of the Empire were used as building material, these pieces came from Baalbek, from Pergamon, and from the Temple of Artemis as well.
The upper galleries were used by important people or for church councils during the Byzantine period, and the lower part was used by common people. When the Hagia Sophia was a Mosque, the galleries were reserved for the women during prayers, and the lower floor was used by the men.

On May 29th, 1453, the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and Sultan Mehmet II ordered to convert the church into a Mosque and was renamed Aya Sofya Camii. Mehmet attended the first Friday prayer in the mosque on 1 June 1453. Aya Sofya became the first Imperial Mosque in Istanbul. Sultan Mehmet admired the art, he didn’t want these great mosaics to be destroyed so he plastered them over and the Ottomans made their own floral designs or geometrical patterns, as well as Koranic calligraphy on top of the plaster. In order to use it as a mosque, Mihrab and Minbar were added inside, a fountain for the ablution was placed in the courtyard, and minarets were built in different periods in the outer corners of the building. A Koranic school, soup kitchen, library, madrasa, the clock-winding house, and sultan’s mausoleums (belonging to Selim II, Murat III, Mehmet III, Mustafa I and Ibrahim) are amongst the structures added by the Ottomans. Also, large buttresses were built by Turkish architect Sinan in the 16th century to support the walls holding up the dome and to save the building from the earthquakes.

 

Aya Sofya remained a Mosque for almost 500 years. But In 1935, the first Turkish President and founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, transformed the building into a museum. The carpets were removed and marble floor decorations such as the Omphalion appeared for the first time in centuries, while the white plaster covering many of the mosaics was removed. Nevertheless, the condition of the structure deteriorated.

hagia sophia interior
hagia sophia interior

 

In 2015, in retaliation for the acknowledgment by Pope Francis of the Armenian Genocide, the Mufti of Ankara, Mefail Hızlı, stated that he believes the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque will be accelerated.
On July 1, 2016, Muslim prayers were held again in the Hagia Sophia for the first time in 85 years.

On May 13, 2017, a large group of people organized by the Anatolia Youth Association (AGD), gathered in front of Hagia Sophia and prayed the morning prayer with a call for the reconversion of the museum into a Mosque. On June 21, 2017, Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) organized a special program, which included the recitation of the Quran and prayers in Hagia Sofia, to mark the Laylat al-Qadr, the program was broadcast live by state-run television TRT. Now everybody could come to visit this architectural masterpiece and admire both Christian and Muslim art.
The Hagia Sophia is a component of a UNESCO World Heritage site called the Historic Areas of Istanbul (designated 1985), which includes that city’s other major historic buildings and locations.

The Aya Sofya served as the inspiration for several mosques built during the Ottoman Empire, including Süleymaniye Mosque, designed by Sinan, and the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (popularly known as the Blue Mosque).
Hagia Sophia was, as of 2014, the second-most visited Museum in Turkey, attracting almost 3.3 million visitors annually. According to data released by the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry, Hagia Sophia was Turkey’s most visited tourist attraction in 2015.

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