Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) is a former Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal basilica (church), later an imperial mosque, and now a museum (Ayasofya Museum) in Istanbul.
Known as the “Great Church” or “Magna Ecclesia” in Latin (the name Hagia Sophia came into use around 430), the first church was built at the same location where there had been a pagan temple before. It was Constantius II who inaugurated Hagia Sophia on 15 February 360. From the chronicles of Socrates of Constantinople, we know that the church was built by the orders of Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor and the founder of the city of Constantinople, which he called the New Rome. The Hagia Sophia was one of several great churches he built in important cities throughout his empire.
This first church was a wooden-roofed basilica with a nave flanked by two or four aisles, each carrying a gallery storey. It was preceded by an atrium. This church was largely destroyed in 404 during riots since patriarch John Chrysostom was sent into exile by the Emperor Arcadius. Unfortunately nothing remains of the original Hagia Sophia.
Following the destruction of Constantine's church, a second church was built by the Emperor Theodosius the Great and inaugurated on 10 October 405. We still don’t have any evidence of whether the original 4th century plans remained unchanged. But still it consisted of standard architectural elements of the Byzantine period: an atrium, probably a narthex and a basilica with galleries.
This second church was burned down during the Nika riots of 532, though fragments of it have been excavated and can be seen today.
Hagia Sophia was rebuilt in her present form between 532 and 537 under the personal supervision of Emperor Justinian I.
It is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture, rich with mosaics and marble pillars and coverings. After completion, Justinian is said to have exclaimed, Solomon, I have outdone thee!”
From the date of its completion in 537 AD, and until 1453, it served as an Orthodox cathedral and a 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 of Constantinople. The building was a 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 culminating architectural achievement of Late Antiquity and the first masterpiece of Byzantine architecture and is said to have changed the history of architecture. It remained the world's largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520. The current building was designed by the Greek geometers Isidore the Elder of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, most likely influenced by the mathematical theories of Archimedes (ca. 287–212 BC).
They built the Hagia Sophia in great haste, finishing it in less than six years. To put this in comparison it took nearly a century for medieval builders to construct the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.
This short construction period appears to have led to problems with dome. It collapsed after an earthquake in 558 and it fell to a man named Isidore the Younger to build a new domed roof.
That one also fell in 563. Steps were taken to better secure the dome, but there were additional partial collapses in 989 and 1346. It has lasted nearly 1,400 years, down to the present day.
For over 900 years the Hagia Sophia was the seat of the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople and a principal setting for church councils and imperial ceremonies.
In 1204 the cathedral was ruthlessly attacked, desecrated and plundered by the Crusaders, who also ousted the Patriarch of Constantinople and replaced him with a Latin bishop. This event cemented the division of the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches that had begun with the Great Schism of 1054. It also means that most of Hagia Sophia's riches can be seen today not in Istanbul, but in the treasury of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice.
Despite this violent setback, Hagia Sophia remained a functioning church until May 29, 1453, when Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror entered triumphantly into the city of Constantinople. He was amazed at the beauty of the Hagia Sophia and immediately converted it into his imperial mosque. A view of Hagia Sophia during the conquest is conveyed in a woodcut by Pieter van Aelst, the Younger, depicting the procession of Suleiman the Magnificent through the Hippodrome.
Hagia Sophia served as the principal mosque of Istanbul for almost 500 years. It became a model for many of the Ottoman mosques of Istanbul such as Sultanahmet Mosque (more known as the Blue Mosque), the Suleymaniye Mosque (Mosque of Sultan Suleiman), the Shehzade Mosque and the Rustem Pasha Mosque.
No major structural changes were made at first; the addition of a mihrab (prayer niche), minbar (pulpit) and a wooden minaret made a mosque out of the church. Later, minarets were built around the perimeter of the building complex, Christian mosaic icons were covered with whitewash, and exterior buttresses were added for structural support. However, more various additions were made over the centuries by successive sultans.
The most famous restoration of the Hagia Sophia was completed between 1847-49 by Abdulmecid II, who invited the Swiss-Italian architects Gaspare and Guiseppe Fossati to renovate the mosque. The brothers consolidated the dome and vaults, straightened columns, and revised the decoration of the exterior and the interior.
THE ARCHITECTURE & DECORATION
The Hagia Sophia has a classical basilica plan. The main ground plan of the building is a rectangle, 70 m in width and 75 m in length. The area is covered by a central dome with a diameter of 31 m and a height of 48, 5 m, which is just slightly smaller than that of the Pantheon in Rome. This central dome was often interpreted by contemporary commentators as the dome of heaven itself.
All interior surfaces are sheathed with polychrome marble, green and white with purple porphyry, and gold mosaics. On the exterior, simple stuccoed walls reveal the clarity of massed vaults and domes.
The decorations within the Hagia Sophia at the time of construction were probably very simple, images of crosses for instances. Over time this changed to include a variety of ornate mosaics such as imperial portraits, images of the imperial family, images of Christ and different emperors. During the 8th and 9th centuries there was a period of iconoclasm in the Byzantine Empire that resulted in some of the mosaics being destroyed. The controversy spanned roughly a century, during the years 726 – 787 and 815 – 843. In these decades, imperial legislation barred the production and use of figural images; simultaneously, the cross was promoted as the most acceptable decorative form for Byzantine churches.
At the end of this period decoration of the interior of Hagia Sophia resumed, each emperor adding their own images. One of the most well-known mosaics is located on the apse of the church showing 4 metres Virgin Mary with Jesus as a child. Dedicated on March 29, 867, it is located 30 metres above the church floor.
Apart from the mosaics, a large number of figurative decorations were added during the second half of the 9th century: an image of Christ in the central dome; Orthodox saints, prophets and Church Fathers in the tympana below; historical figures connected with this church, such as Patriarch Ignatius; some scenes from the gospel in the galleries. Basil II let paint on each of the four pendentives a giant six-winged Cherub.
The Main Dome of Hagia Sophia has spurred particular interest for many art historians and architects because of the innovative way the original architects envisioned the dome.
The Dome is carried on pendentives - four concave triangular sections of masonry which solve the problem of setting the circular base of a dome on a rectangular base. Each pendentive is decorated with seraphim. The weight of the dome passes through the pendentives to four massive piers at the corners, and between them the dome seems to float upon four great arches.
The Imperial Gate mosaic is located in the tympanum above that gate, which was used only by the emperors when entering the church. Based on style analysis, it has been dated to the late 9th or early 10th century. The emperor with a nimbus or halo could possibly represent emperor Leo VI the Wise or his son Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus bowing down before Christ Pantocrator, seated on a jewelled throne, giving His blessing and holding in His left hand an open book. The text on the book reads as follows: Peace be with you. I am the light of the world. (John 20:19; 20:26; 8:12). On each side of Christ's shoulders is a circular medallion: on His left the Archangel Gabriel, holding a staff, on His right His Mother Mary.
The South-western Entrance Mosaic situated in the tympanum of the southwestern entrance, dates from the reign of Basil II. It was rediscovered during the restorations of 1849 by Fossati brothers. The Virgin sits on a throne without a back, her feet resting on a pedestal, embellished with precious stones. The Child Christ sits on her lap, giving His blessing and holding a scroll in His left hand. On her left side stands Emperor Constantine in ceremonial attire, presenting a model of the city to Mary. The inscription next to him says: Great emperor Constantine of the Saints. On her right side stands Emperor Justinian I, offering a model of the Hagia Sophia. The medallions on both sides of the Virgin's head carry the monograms MP and ΘY, an abbreviation of Mëtër and Theou, meaning Mother of God.
The Apse Mosaic of Virgin Mary and Child was the first of the post-iconoclastic mosaics. It was inaugurated on 29 March 867 by Patriarch Photius and the Emperors Michael III and Basil I. This mosaic is situated in a high location on the half dome of the apse. Mary is sitting on a throne without a back, holding the Child Jesus on her lap. Her feet rest on a pedestal. Both the pedestal and the throne are adorned with precious stones. The portraits of the archangels Gabriel and Michael in the bema of the arch also date from the 9th century. The mosaics are set against the original golden background of the 6th century. These mosaics were believed to be a reconstruction of the mosaics of the 6th century that were previously destroyed during the iconoclastic era by the Byzantines of that time, as represented in the inaugural sermon by the patriarch Photios. However, no record of figural decoration of Hagia Sophia exists before this time.
The Emperor Alexander mosaic is not easy to find on the second floor in a dark corner of the ceiling. It depicts Emperor Alexander in full regalia, holding a scroll in his right hand and a cruciger globus in his left. Unlike most of the other mosaics in Hagia Sophia, which had been covered over by ordinary plaster, the Alexander mosaic was simply painted over and reflected the surrounding mosaic patterns and thus was well hidden.
The Empress Zoe Mosaic on the eastern wall of the southern gallery dates from the 11th century. Christ Pantocrator, clad in the dark blue robe is seated in the middle against a golden background, giving His blessing with the right hand and holding the Bible in His left hand. On either side of His head are the monograms IC and XC, meaning Iësous Khristos. He is flanked by Constantine IX Monomachus and Empress Zoe, both in ceremonial costumes. He is offering a purse, as symbol of the donation he made to the church, while she is holding a scroll, symbol of the donations she made. The inscription over the head of the emperor says: Constantine, pious emperor in Christ the God, king of the Romans, Monomachus. The inscription over the head of the empress reads as follows: Zoë, the very pious Augusta. The previous heads have been scraped off and replaced by the three present ones. Perhaps the earlier mosaic showed her first husband Romanus III Argyrus or her second husband Michael IV. Another theory is that this mosaic was made for an earlier emperor and empress, with their heads changed into the present ones. The Comnenus Mosaic placed on the eastern wall of the southern gallery, dates from 1122. The Virgin Mary is standing in the middle, depicted in a dark blue gown. She holds the Child Christ on her lap. He gives His blessing with His right hand while holding a scroll in His left hand. On her right side stands Emperor John II Comnenus, represented in a garb embellished with precious stones. He holds a purse, symbol of an imperial donation to the church. Empress Irene stands on the left side of the Virgin, wearing ceremonial garments and offering a document. Their eldest son Alexius Comnenus is represented on an adjacent pilaster. He is shown as a beardless youth, probably representing his appearance at his coronation aged seventeen. In this panel one can already see a difference with the Empress Zoe mosaic that is one century older. There is a more realistic expression in the portraits instead of an idealized representation. The Empress is shown with plaited blond hair, rosy cheeks and grey eyes, revealing her Hungarian descent. The Emperor is depicted in a dignified manner
The Comnenus Mosaic placed on the eastern wall of the southern gallery, dates from 1122. The Virgin Mary is standing in the middle, depicted in a dark blue gown. She holds the Child Christ on her lap. He gives His blessing with His right hand while holding a scroll in His left hand. On her right side stands Emperor John II Comnenus, represented in a garb embellished with precious stones. He holds a purse, symbol of an imperial donation to the church. Empress Irene stands on the left side of the Virgin, wearing ceremonial garments and offering a document. Their eldest son Alexius Comnenus is represented on an adjacent pilaster. He is shown as a beardless youth, probably representing his appearance at his coronation aged seventeen. In this panel one can already see a difference with the Empress Zoe mosaic that is one century older. There is a more realistic expression in the portraits instead of an idealized representation. The Empress is shown with plaited blond hair, rosy cheeks and grey eyes, revealing her Hungarian descent. The Emperor is depicted in a dignified manner
The Deesis Mosaic (“Entreaty) dates from ca. 1261. It was commissioned to mark the end of 57 years of Roman Catholic use and the return to the Orthodox faith. It is the third panel situated in the imperial enclosure of the upper galleries. It is widely considered the finest in Hagia Sophia, because of the softness of the features, the humane expressions and the tones of the mosaic. The style is close to that of the Italian painters of the late 13th - early 14th century, such as Duccio. In this panel the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist (Ioannes Prodromos), both shown in three-quarters profile, are imploring the intercession of Christ Pantocrator for humanity on Judgment Day. This mosaic is considered as the beginning of the Renaissance in Byzantine pictorial art.
The Northern Tympanum Mosaics feature various saints. They have been able to survive due to the very high and unreachable location. They depict Saints John Chrysostom and Ignatius the Younger standing, clothed in white robes with crosses, and holding richly jewelled Holy Bibles. The names of each saint are given around the statues in Greek, in order to enable identification for the visitor. The other mosaics in the other tympana have not survived.
The Nave Columns of Hagia Sophia
The capitals are carved in marble from the Proconnesus Island in the sea of Marmara, near to Constantinople. In fact Marmara means Marble in Greece. Hence the sea was called the Marble Sea. The stone quarries of the island were exploited on an industrial scale during the early Byzantine era producing thousands of carved elements a year for building projects around the Sea of Marmara, in Greece and Asia Minor. Once can still see the capitals in various states of carving around the island that have been there for 1500 years or more. During the long period the quarry was exploited in Byzantine times work teams made marble elements for all sorts of things - like stone windows, staircases, columns and basins. Some items were finished and shipped ready to use; others were roughed out and sent to the building site to be completed on site. The capitals and marble elements of Hagia Sophia are huge, They must have required extensive finishing on the building site.
The capitals have monogram of the Emperor Justinian on them. We know the capitals were painted blue and gilded in the reign of the Emperor Romanos. Paint still remains in the deepest parts of the carving on some or all of the capitals.
The columns are made of what the medieval Italians called Verde Antico, Antique Green; in Roman times the stone was called marmore Thessalonium, because it comes from quarries near the city of Atrax in Thessaly, Greece... There are 40 of these 17 metres tall columns in Hagia Sophia. The grey green stone is a breccio - conglomerate of serpentine, schist and marble.
In later times there was a legend the columns were brought from older Roman sites in Ephesos. People could not believe that such huge columns could have been made in Justinian's reign, however they were ready made for the cathedral. The columns are quite irregular on their surface. You can easily see this when you feel the columns with your hands. The marble also has a waxy feel to it, which is a characteristic of the serpentine in them.
The column above is carved from Proconnesus marble. Below is a column made of Imperial porphyry from Gebel Dokhan in the Eastern desert of Egypt. The purple color in this extremely hard stone comes from hematite. Although the stone is very dense it can fracture under stress. Many of the porphyry columns in Hagia Sophia show visible cracks and have been reinforced with bronze collars.
MUSEUMS & SITES OF ISTANBUL
♦ Bosphorus Strait - A natural strait that connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara and separates Europe from Asia
♦ Beylerbeyi Palace - one of the most magnificent Ottoman coastal palaces built in 1865
♦ Dolmabahce Palace Museum - The 19th century glamorous palace of Ottoman Sultans
♦ Hagia Sophia of Istanbul - The Church of Holy Wisdom built in 535 by Emperor Justinian
♦ Hippodrome (Atmeydani) - The stadium of ancient Byzantium, which once could hold 100.000 spectators
♦ Topkapi Palace Museum - The former seating residence of Ottoman Sultans built between 1459 & 1465