Turkey - Table of Contents ..................... Architecture Around the World
UNESCO World Heritage Site
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Source: howjsay.com (online Dec. 2014)
Istanbul: Hagia Sofia
By Burak Sansal
(online Dec. 2014)
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. Turkish people call it Aya Sofya.
It's a former Byzantine church and former Ottoman mosque. It is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture.
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, was built by emperor Justinian I between 532-537 AD over the remains of the previous basilica. The church became the glorious symbol of the Byzantine Empire and the largest church of Christendom in the world [until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520] . For almost 1000 years the Hagia Sophia was the seat of the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople. Church councils and imperial ceremonies were held here.
In 1204 the church was sacked by the Fourth Crusade, and many precious relics were removed from the church and taken away. This act definitively divided the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. Some of these relics can be seen today in the treasury of St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, Italy.
On May 29th, 1453, the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and sultan Mehmet II ordered to convert the church into a mosque. Because he admired the art, the sultan 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, a mihrab [a niche in the wall of a mosque or a room in the mosque that indicates the direction of Mecca] and a minbar [a short flight of steps used as a platform by an imam in a mosque] were added inside, a fountain for ablution was placed in the courtyard, and minarets were built in different periods in the outer corners of the building.
Aya Sofya remained a mosque for almost 500 years until 1935 when Atatürk converted it into a museum. ... experts came from all around the world to remove some of the plaster in order to uncover spectacular Byzantine mosaics. It was, and still is, an important task during the restorations bringing to light all the major Byzantine mosaics but also preserving the Islamic art and calligraphy to maintain a balance between both Christian and Islamic cultures.