AYASOFYA (HAGIA SOPHIA)

The Hagia Sophia was probably the largest building on the world’s surface, barring the Egyptian Pyramids, or the Great Wall of China. For many centuries it was the largest church and today is the fourth largest in the world after St. Paul’s in London, St. Peter’s in Rome and the Duomo in Milan. The great Ottoman architect Sinan, in his autobiography, says that he devoted his lifetime in the attempt to surpass its technical achievements.

It was dedicated to the Hagia Sophia which means the Divine Wisdom, an attribute of Christ.

Today’s Hagia Sophia is the third building built at the same place. The first one was a basilica with a wooden roof and was built in 390 AD. This original church Megale Ecclesia (Great Church) was burned down in a rumpus in 404. Theodosius replaced it with a massive basilica which was burned down in the Nika Revolt against Justinian in 532. Justinian began rebuilding the Hagia Sophia in the same year. The architects were two Anatolian geniuses, Anthemius of Tralles, an engineer and a mathematician and Isidorus of Miletus, an architect. They started collecting materials from all over the empire. In the construction ten thousand workers worked under the supervision of one hundred master builders.

Justinian reopened it in 537 entering the Hagia Sophia with the words “Solomon, I have surpassed you!”.

Because the building is on a fault line in an earthquake zone and the city passed through many riots and fires, the Hagia Sophia was destroyed and underwent restorations several times.

Throughout Byzantine history, the Hagia Sophia played an important role as emperors were crowned and various victories were celebrated in this remarkable building. The Hagia Sophia even gave refuge to criminals.

Another major event during the Byzantine period was the removal of all religious images from the church in the iconoclastic period. During the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the church was pillaged and some disgusting events took place in the Hagia Sophia. After conquering Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mehmet immediately went to the Hagia Sophia and ordered that it be converted into a mosque. This was done by adding the Islamic elements such as minarets, the mihrab and the minber all of which were appropriately positioned to face toward Mecca, 10 degrees south of the main axis of the building. The architect Sinan was also assigned to make some restorations and add Islamic elements to the building. Buttresses were added in the Ottoman period. Two huge marble jars were brought from Pergamum in the 16C and probably used to keep oil for candles. The eight round wooden plaques at gallery level are fine examples for Islamic calligraphy. The names painted on these plaques are Allah, Prophet Mohammed, the first four Caliphs Ebubekir, Omer, Osman and Ali, and the two grandsons of Mohammed, Hasan and Huseyin.

In time Ayasofya became a complex consisting of tombs, a fountain, libraries, etc. It has been thought that when Turks converted the church into a mosque, all the pictures were covered which is not correct. According to the narration of travelers, pictures were still standing but figures’ faces were covered.Ayasofya was used as a church for 916 years and as a mosque for 481 years. In 1934, by the order of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, it was made a museum and has since been open to visitors.

AYASOFYA