The Hagia Sophia is a domed monument built as a cathedral and is currently a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. (Image credit: Tatiana Popova Shutterstock)

The Hagia Sophia, who name method “holy wisdom,” is a domed monument originally built as a cathedral in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) in the 6th century A.D.

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It has two floors focused on a giant nave that has actually a good dome ceiling, along with smaller domes, towering above.

“Hagia Sophia’s dimensions space formidable for any structure not constructed of steel,” to write Helen Gardner and Fred Kleiner in their book "Gardner’s Art v the Ages: A an international History." “In arrangement it is about 270 feet <82 meters> long and 240 feet <73 meters> wide. The dome is 108 feet <33 meters> in diameter and also its crown rises part 180 feet <55 meters> over the pavement.”

In that 1,400 year life-span it has served as a cathedral, mosque and now a museum. When it was an initial constructed, Constantinople was the resources of the byzantine Empire. This state, officially Christian, originally created the eastern fifty percent of the roman inn Empire and also carried on after ~ the fall of Rome.

The story that the construction of the Hagia Sophia started in A.D. 532 once the Nika Riots, a an excellent revolt, hit Constantinople. At the time Emperor Justinian I had actually been leader of the realm for five years and also had end up being unpopular. It began in the hippodrome amongst two chariot gyeongju factions referred to as the blue and green v the riot dispersing throughout the city the rioters chanting “Nika,” which means “victory,” and attempting come throw out Justinian by besieging the in his palace.

“People were resentful of the high taxes that Justinian had imposed and also they want him the end of office,” said University the London historian Caroline Goodson in a National geographic documentary. After relocating loyal troops right into the city Justinian controlled to put down the rebellion v brute force.

In the wake of the uprising, and on the website of a torched church that had been dubbed the Hagia Sophia, a new Hagia Sophia would certainly be built. To the ancient writer Paul the Silentiary, who lived as soon as the cathedral was completed, the building represented a triumph because that both Justinian and also Christianity.

“I say, renowned roman inn Capitol, give way! my Emperor has so much overtopped the wonder as an excellent God is remarkable to an idol!” (Translation by Peter Bell, from the book "Three politics Voices native the age of Justinian," Liverpool college Press, 2009)

Interior that the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey. The crown that the dome rises 180 feet (55 meters) over the floor. (Image credit: Artur Bogacki Shutterstock)

Building the Hagia Sophia

To build his cathedral, Justinian turned come two guys named Anthemius and Isidore the Elder.

“Contemporary writers execute not describe Anthemius and Isidore as architects, despite the term was usual in the 6th century, yet as mechanikoi or mechanopoioi,” writes Indiana college professor W. Eugene Kleinbauer in a section of the publication "Hagia Sophia" (Scala Publishers, 2004). “These terms represent a an extremely small number of practitioners that the art of design, even if it is of structures or of devices or other works ...”

They constructed the Hagia Sophia in great haste, finishing the in less than six years. To put this in comparison it took almost a century because that medieval home builders to build the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

This short construction duration appears to have led to problems. Ancient sources, such as the writer Procopios, compose that the builders had difficulties with the dome roof, the structure nearly collapsing during construction. The dome provided a mechanism of piers to channel the weight.

“The piers on height of i m sorry the structure was gift built, unable to be afflicted with the mass that was pressing down on them, in which method or other suddenly began to rest away and also seemed to it is in on the suggest of collapsing...” to write Procopios (translation republished on Columbia University’s website).

Eventually Anthemius and Isidore did acquire the domed roof to stand and it to be a magnificent sight indeed. “It seems not come be started on hard masonry, but to be suspended from sky by that golden chain and so cover the space,” composed Procopios.

Unfortunately this roof did not stand. The collapsed about two years later and also it fell to a male named Isidore the Younger to develop a brand-new domed roof. It has actually lasted, with some repairs, almost 1,400 years, under to the current day.

“The dome rests no on a drum yet on pendentives, spherical triangles that arise indigenous four vast piers that bring the load of the cupola. The pendentives made it feasible to location the dome end a square compartment,” to write researcher Victoria Hammond, who describes the structure of the surviving Hagia Sophia dome, in a thing of the publication "Visions that Heaven: The Dome in european Architecture" (Springer, 2005).

Sunlight comes in through the home windows of the Hagia Sophia "seemed come dissolve the solidity the the walls and also created an ambience the ineffable mystery," created one author. (Image credit: Yulia Gursoy Shutterstock)

Beneath the dome are 40 windows through sunlight comes through. “The sunshine emanating native the windows neighboring its lofty cupola, suffusing the interior and irradiating its yellow mosaics, appeared to dissolve the solidity the the walls and also created one ambience that ineffable mystery,” she writes. “On the perfect of Hagia Sophia, Justinian is said to have actually remarked, ‘Solomon, I have outdone thee’.”

Imperial seating

Modern-day travellers will note that the Hagia Sophia has two levels, the soil floor and also a collection above. The visibility of the two levels may mean that civilization were organized according to gender and class as soon as services were held at the cathedral.

In byzantine churches “galleries it seems ~ to have been supplied as a way of distinction of genders and also of society classes,” write Vasileios Marinis in a thing of the book "The oriental World" (Routledge, 2010). “In Hagia Sophia a component of the gallery was supplied as an royal lodge, from which the empress and occasionally the emperor attended the services.”

This lodge no the only benefit the emperor got. Antony White write in an additional chapter the the 2004 "Hagia Sophia" publication that to get in the cathedral’s nave indigenous the narthex there are nine doorways. “The central or imperial Door was booked for the usage of the emperor and his attendants, and also provides the most perfect approach to the internal of the church.”

Decorations and iconoclasm

The decorations within the Hagia Sophia at the moment of construction were probably an extremely simple, images of the cross for instances. Gradually this adjusted to include a selection of ornate mosaics.

“There room a variety of mosaics that have been included over the centuries, royal portraits, images of the royal family, photos of Christ and also different emperors, those have been included since Justinian’s day,” claimed Goodson in the documentary.

During the eighth and also ninth centuries A.D., there to be a duration of iconoclasm in the byzantine Empire that brought about some that the mosaics being destroyed.

“The dispute spanned approximately a century, during the year 726–87 and 815–43. In this decades, royal legislation barred the production and use that figural images; simultaneously, the overcome was advocated as the most acceptable decorative form for byzantine churches,” writes sarah Brooks, that James Madison University, in a city Museum of art article.

The Apse Mosaic in the Hagia Sophia mirrors the Virgin mar holding infant Jesus. The is 13 feet tall. (Image credit: Artur Bogacki Shutterstock)

“Fear the the viewer misdirected his/her veneration towards the photo rather than to the divine person represented in the picture lay in ~ the heart of this controversy.”

At the end of this period decoration the the interior of Hagia Sophia resumed, each emperor adding their own images. One of the most popular mosaics is located on the apse of the church mirroring a 13-foot-tall (4 meters) Virgin Mary v Jesus together a child. Dedicated on march 29, 867, it is situated 30 meter (almost 100 feet) over the church floor, notes college of Sussex professor Liz James in a 2004 post published in the journal Art History.

Conversion to mosque

Another thing in the Hagia Sophia’s life started in 1453. In that year the oriental Empire ended, through Constantinople falling to the militaries of Mehmed II, sultan that the footrest Empire.

The oriental Empire had actually been in decrease for centuries and by 1453 the Hagia Sophia had fallen into disrepair, notes researcher Elisabeth Piltz in a 2005 British historical Reports collection book. Nevertheless, the Christian cathedral made a strong impression top top the brand-new Ottoman rulers and also they chose to convert it into a mosque.

“What a dome, the vies in rank through the ripe spheres that heaven! In this job-related a perfect master has displayed the entirety of the architectural science,” wrote Ottoman chronicler Tursun Beg throughout the 15th century (translation from Piltz’s book).

Outside the church, four minarets would at some point be added, Kleiner write (in a 2010 version of his book) the these “four slim pencil-shaped minarets” are much more than 200 feet (60 meters) tall and are “among the tallest ever constructed.”

Changes arisen on the inside together well. Piltz writes the “after the Ottoman conquest the mosaics were covert under yellow repaint with the exception of the Theotokos in the apse.” In enhancement “Monograms of the 4 caliphs were put on the pillars flanking the apse and also the entrance of the nave.”

The format of the Hagia Sophia, in particular its dome, would go ~ above to affect Ottoman architecture, most notably in the breakthrough of the Blue Mosque, developed in Istanbul throughout the 17th century.

Present-day museum

In 1934, the federal government of Turkey secularized the Hagia Sophia and turned it right into a museum. The Turkish the supervisory board of Ministers declared that early out “to its historical significance, the switch of the (Hagia Sophia) mosque, a distinctive architectural monument of art situated in Istanbul, into a museum will certainly please the whole Eastern world and also its conversion come a museum will cause humanity to gain a new institution that knowledge.”

Research, repair and restoration work proceeds to this day and also the Hagia Sophia is now crucial site for tourism in Istanbul. That is a ar that has actually been component of the social fabric of the city in both ancient and modern-day times.

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— Owen Jarus, Contributor


Owen Jarus writes around archaeology and all things about humans" previous for Live Science. Owen has a bachelor of arts level from the university of Toronto and a journalism level from Ryerson University. He enjoys analysis about brand-new research and also is constantly looking because that a brand-new historical tale.