Hagia Sophia Architecture – History & Facts

Hagia Sophia architecture… It is one of the most talked about, argued,and perhaps important structures in the world history. A sanctuary of thousands of years, heart of Constantinople,and the headquarters of it; the key to Istanbul.Consider a structure that Eastern Rome was ruled from there in all its magnificence, the emperors was crowned there. It has been the largest cathedral in the world for almost 1000 years; it has served to 2 great religions as the chief church for 916 years, 477 years as a mosque.

Hagia Sophia History

The word Hagia Sophia means “Sacred Wisdom” in Greek. Of course, this is neither the first name of the structure nor today’s Hagia Sophia is the first Hagia Sophia that was built. The first church, called Megale Ekklesia, was built by Emperor Constantine in 360. This church with a wooden roofed and basilically planned structure, did not have any foreign architecture to the designed period. Unfortunately, its life did not exceed half a century. It would be a great chance that the unfortunate events that happened to many architectural masterpieces in history did not happen to a symbolic structure, which is the manifestation of such political and religious power. And luck wasn’t in favor of architecture. The church was destroyed in 404 as a result of a public uprising and made unusable.

Not so much, Hagia Sophia was rebuilt in a similar and larger structure after 11 years. This time there was Theodosius II, known with his books, the laws  and kilometers long city walls he made, in the imperial office. This structure, whose architect was Rufinos, took its place in the dusty pages of the history of architecture with the “Nika Rebellion” carried out by a popular coalition against the empire with a greater uprising than before, on January 13, 532.

A section drawing of Hagia Sophia in the time of Justinian.
A section drawing of Hagia Sophia in the time of Justinian

The Dream of an Idealist Emperor

Without the Hagia Sophia, a symbol of great spiritual power, we do not know if the Eastern Roman emperors could rule all over the country with whole their might. But, the majestically reconstruction of Hagia Sophia, which is rebuilt with greater power every time it is destroyed, may be a clue to the answer to this question. The building was designed by two great architects Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles by order of Justinian in 532. They known as architects of Hagia Sophia.

Knowing that 100 architects with 100 workers at their disposal work in the structure and the structure was completed in an extraordinary short time like 5 years, is very important for us to see Justinian’s ideal of “Great Rome Again”. This structure was so important to Justinian that, according to the historian Prokopios, at the opening of the temple; the emperor pointed to the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, another of the most important religious buildings in history, by saying  “O Solomon, I passed you”. If such an ambitious statement was said for another structure, not for Hagia Sophia, there would probably be those who thought that Justinian had lost his mind.However, Hagia Sophia, with the dome having height of 55.6 m and a diameter of 31.87 m (north-south axis), with all its nobility, with materials brought from many parts of the world, declares to the world that it is behind this claim.White marbles from Marmara, green porphyries from Eğriboz Island, pink marbles from Afyon, yellow marbles from North Africa, columns brought both from Egypt and the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus…

Fossati's Hagia Sophia
Fossati’s Hagia Sophia Drawing

The third Hagia Sophia, unlike its predecessors, was planned both basilically and centrally. It is undoubtedly thanks to the mastery, experience, and high mathematical knowledge of architects, the square center carry a huge dome with the angel-figured 4 pendant. Having 3 naves, 1 apse, 1 inner and outer narthex, the structure has 5 doors in outer corridor and 9 doors in inner corridor. The big door in the middle, where the emperor and his relatives enter, has a rumor that Noah’s ark is made up of remains. The most famous of the 104 columns of Hagia Sophia, which have 40 in the lower and 64 in the upper gallery, is “Wishing Column”. The reason for this fame is that people who put their fingers into the cavity in the column and put the liquid in their hands to their wounds believe that they will recover. Perhaps this belief would not have existed if this column, which was said to have tears of the Virgin Mary, had not cured Justinian’s headache.

Presentation mosaic in Hagia Sophia
Presentation Mosaic

The things that make Hagia Sophia fascinating are not only the size or the architecture, but also gorgeous mosaics that make a strong connection with the building and represent various scenes. In the Presentation Mosaic on the Vestibule Gate of the inner narthex, the Virgin Mary with the child Jesus in her lap, Constantine who presents the model of the city and Justinian who presents the model of Hagia Sophia are depicted. Apse Mosaic, Zoe Mosaic, Emperor Alexandros Mosaic; “Deisis Composition” in the southern gallery, which describes the final court scene with Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ and John the Baptist… All of these are an indication that the creepy beauty of Hagia Sophia is formed with the wonderful harmony of the art branches.

Besides all these beauties, apart from the rebellions and earthquakes, the 4th Crusades also damaged the structure. Hagia Sophia was affected by the plundering of the city during the campaigns. It was devastated and unfortunately many of the artworks were stolen.

Hagia Sophia: A Symbol of the Conquest that Changed History

In 1453, the so-called indestructible walls of Byzantium were demolished by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II, and the thousands of years of Roman Empire became a history. As a result of this event, according to many historians, the medieval closed and a new age began. The symbol of this conquest that changed the world history was Hagia Sophia.Muslims changed the name of the city to Istanbul and turned Hagia Sophia into a mosque as an indication of their victory and sovereignty over the city. Important changes were made in the architecture of the building in order for Muslims to perform their worship, a red stone minaret was erected, mihrabs, pulpit, muezzin’s loge, ambo and many other elements were placed. 8 pieces of 7.5 meters in diameter, known as the world’s largest in calligraphy, were hung. In addition, strong, gigantic buttresses were added to increase the durability of the structure, as in Roman times.Moreover, the fact that the sultans brought various gifts such as two large helenistic cubes (by Murat III) at the entrance of the main space to Hagia Sophia is another sign that the structure is as important as in the Byzantine Empire.

It was not only the Ottoman Sultans who gave gifts in the Ottoman-Hagia Sophia union, but Hagia Sophia gave the greatest gift to the Ottoman Empire. Todays, It is possible to see the traces and effects of Hagia Sophia architecture in the buildings that adorn every part of the country. In Suleymaniye Mosque, Selimiye Mosque and many other Ottoman classical period works, the motivation was always the desire to overcome the peak that Hagia Sophia architecture have reached. In addition to the magnificent works, this effort gifted Architect Sinan to the Ottoman architecture and the world.

The History in Seclusion

After all these glorious imperial times; Hagia Sophia has been turned into a museum by command of President of Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and decisions of minister board. Then, in 2020, Turkey Ministry changed it to mosque again.

Whatever the name; whatever purpose it is used; no matter which piece is stolen; as long as the Hagia Sophia survives, it will not lose anything from its grandeur, and the time passing by will make the Hagia Sophia even more beautiful. This is the supreme feature of architecture.

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