Hagia Sophia

Button for link to Chinese version of this page

Hagia Sophia is located in Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey which was built about 1,500 years ago. Before it, there had been two other churches that existed at the same site, but were destroyed in riots and fires. Notably, in the Nika riots of 532 AD, the church was burned to the ground. Thus, the ruler during that time period, Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I, gave an order to reconstruct the third church on the same spot as the preceding two churches. The architects who were chosen to design the new church were Greek engineers Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles who had backgrounds in physics and mathematics. It took six years and ten thousand men to complete this large-scale construction. It was the largest church in the world for more than 1,000 years until 1519, when the Seville Cathedral in Spain earned the title.

Briefly studying the history of the city, Istanbul was a Greek city in the ancient world. It was previously known as Byzantium. When the Roman Empire split into Eastern and Western Rome, Eastern Roman Emperor Constantine decided to move his capital to the East, from Rome to Byzantium so he could build his “New Roman” empire. Byzantium was then renamed as Constantinople. The East Roman empire continued to adopt Greek language, culture, and one of the main Christian denominations-Greek Orthodox, at the beginning of this new age. “Sophia” in Greek means "Wisdom". The Hagia Sophia church was originally contributed by Emperor Constantine to the Goddess of wisdom Minerva (or Athena in Greek) in 325. Although it was burned down in 532, it has remained standing until today. In 1453, the Ottoman Turks invaded Constantinople successfully and created a new dynasty. Constantinople, a city stretching across both Asia and Europe was renamed to Istanbul. The new ruler, Sultan Mehmet II, gave an order of converting the Hagia Sohpia from a Christian church into a Mosque. Today this building has a mixture of characteristics from Christianity and Islam in its interior and exterior.

Interiors with images:

Great dome: The Traditional Roman Dome is built on a circular base, while a rectangular Christian church usually follows typical Basilica-style architecture. When Emperor Justinian I gave an order to build a new church, he requested usage of a combination of both Roman dome and Basilica structures to show his prestige. This unprecedented building, was a difficult challenge indeed.

On a geometric two-dimensional plane, a circle will fit in a square with four equal sides. Thus, the dome of Hagia Sophia is built on a square base. Now imagine a three-dimensional blueprint of this structure: a dome supported by arches on all four sides of a square base. To support this massive, heavy object, these arches must be equilateral to the sides of the square base, but they are still not enough to support this large, thick dome. Therefore, the architects designed four buttress pillars on the corners of the four arches and two semi domes on the sides to push the structural force inward. At the end of this design is the pendentive where the corners of the square and arches are filled. After the consolidation of this place, the great dome is held up 180 feet high.

Today, the great dome in Hagia Sophia is not the original as it was destroyed in an earthquake 20 years after it was built in 558. Architect Isidoro El Joven (Isidor the Younger) was given the mission to build a new dome. The difference in the new design is that 40 windows are now installed inside the dome. Their function is to not only increase the light inside the building, but also to reduce the weight of the dome itself to survive any earthquakes in the future.

Large Lustration urn(Photo by Eric Hadley-Ives) Large Lustration urn The wishing column (Photo by Eric Hadley-Ives)The wishing column
Minarete: A tower with speakers around a Mosque for the call to prayer(Photo by Eric Hadley-Ives)Angel on pendentive Large disks: The calligraphy with holy words from the Quran (Photo by Eric Hadley-Ives)Large disks: holy words from the Quran

 

Back to the English Timeline

Back to the Historylines home page.

Articles of French history:Eiffel tower, Louvre, Versailles, Notre-Dame de Paris, Paris Opera house.

Articles of Chinese history: oil well, abacus, compass, gunpowder, first dictionary, paper money, wheelbarrow

 

Creative Commons License
This work by Eric & Chun-Chih Hadley-Ives is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Hagia SophiaThe fountain in front of Hagia Sophia

Great dome in Hagia SophiaThe great dome in Hagia Sophia

Mosaic tiles: During the Christian period, the church was covered with magnificent mosaic tiles, after Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque, the majority of tiles on the wall or ceiling were eradicated and covered with plaster and replaced with Ottoman decorations(Photo by Eric Hadley-Ives)Mosaic tiles: During the Christian period, the church was covered with magnificent mosaic tiles, after Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque, the majority of tiles on the wall or ceiling were eradicated and covered with plaster and replaced with Ottoman decorations

Column with lace carving (Photo by Eric Hadley-Ives)Column with lace carving

Coronation area (Photo by Eric Hadley-Ives)Coronation area

Coronation area (Photo by Eric Hadley-Ives)Two-winged bronze door