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Hagia Sophia, whose full name is Saint Sophia Museum, is a historical museum in Istanbul. It was a basilica planned patriarchal cathedral built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinianus between the years 532-537 in the old city center of Istanbul and was converted into a mosque by Fatih Sultan Mehmet in 1453 after Istanbul was taken by the Ottomans. Since 1935, Hagia Sophia serves as a museum. Hagia Sophia is a domed basilica type that combines the basilica plan and the central plan in terms of architects and is considered as an important turning point in the history of architecture with its dome transition and bearing system features.

The word “hagia” in the name of Hagia Sophia comes from the word “holy, saint” and the word “sophia” comes from the word sophos, meaning “wisdom” in Ancient Greek. Therefore, the name “hagia sophia” means “sacred wisdom” or “divine wisdom” and is considered one of the three attributes of God in the Orthodox sect.

This building, which has been standing for 15 centuries, is among the masterpieces of art history and the world of architecture and has become a symbol of Byzantine architecture with its large dome.

History of Hagia Sophia

First and Second Hagia Sophia

Before Hagia Sophia was built, there are two different churches that were built in the same place. The first of these is the church built in 360 by Konstantius, the son of Constantine. This church was called Megale Eklesia that means ‘’the Great Church’’. In the time of Emperor Arkadius, it burned during riots in 404. The second Teodosius, who came to the throne after Arkadios, built a new church instead of the destroyed church and it survived until 532.

Third Hagia Sophia

In 532, during the reign of Justinian, the people of the city started a great rebellion due to unrest. This uprising, referred to as the Nika Uprising in history, caused great damage to almost the entire city. Justinianus suppressed this revolt, but realized that the city needed to be rebuilt. This was an opportunity for Justinian, and he begun preparations to rebuild the city. Just as Constantine wanted to establish New Rome, Justinianus had a similar purpose. However, this time he aimed to establish New Jerusalem instead of New Rome.

As it is known Jerusalem, was a very important and holy city for all divine religions. The most important reason for this was that it was first built by Solomon. It is the Temple of Jerusalem that was rebuilt after it was demolished in the 6th century. This temple was where God met his people. Therefore, it was considered the most sacred place. While Justinianus was building the New Jerusalem, he also wanted to build the New Temple.

Justinianus invited the two most important architects of his time before him and talked about his plan. These architects were Antemius with Tralles and Isidoros with Miletus. By looking at the plan, Antemius and Isidorus stated their views on the fact that this building was impossible to build; however, Justinianus was determined that this church needs to be built. Construction begun on 23 February 532 and the church opened to worship on 27 December 537.

Shortly after its construction, cracks appeared in the main dome and the eastern half dome in 553 Gölcük and 557 Istanbul earthquakes. In the earthquake of May 7, 558, the main dome completely collapsed and the first ambon, siborium and altar were crushed and destroyed. The emperor immediately started the restoration work and led the younger İsidorus, the nephew of Isidoros from Miletus, to the beginning of this work. In order to prevent the collapse of the earthquake this time, light material was used in the construction of the dome, and the dome was made 6,25 m higher than before. The restoration work was completed in 562.

When Hagia Sophia was built, it was the largest building in the world, apart from the pyramids, and remained like this for nearly 1000 years. Its dome was considered the largest and highest dome for 1000 years.

Hagia Sophia, the center of the Orthodoxism of Constantinople for centuries, also hosted imperial ceremonies such as the coronation ceremonies of Byzantium. Hagia Sophia has also been a shelter for sinners.

Latin Invasion Period

During the Fourth Crusades, the crusaders under the command of the Venetian Republic seized Istanbul and looted Hagia Sophia. Many holy relics such as torino shroud, a piece of Jesus ‘tombstone, Jesus’ cloth, the milk of Mary and the bones of the saints, and valuable items made of gold and silver were stolen from the church. In this period, Hagia Sophia was transformed into a cathedral attached to the Roman Catholic Church. On May 16, 1204, Latin Emperor I. Baudouin wore the imperial crown in Hagia Sophia.

Last Byzantine Period

When Hagia Sophia came under the control of the Byzantines again in 1261, it was in a state of devastation, ruin and destruction. Emperor II in 1317 received the financing of Andronikos from the legacy of his deceased wife, Irini, and added 4 retaining walls to the north and east parts of the building. In the earthquake of 1344, new cracks appeared in the dome, and on 19 May 1346 various parts of the building collapsed. After this event, the church remained closed until the restoration work of architects named Astras and Peralta began in 1354.

Ottoman Empire (Mosque) Period

After the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the Hagia Sophia Church was immediately converted into a mosque as a symbol of the conquest. Fatih Sultan Mehmet, who attached special importance to Hagia Sophia, ordered the church to be cleaned immediately and turned into a mosque, but did not change its name. The first minaret was built during his period. Although the Ottomans preferred to use stones in such structures, this minaret was made of bricks in order to build the minaret quickly.

One of the minarets is Sultan II. It was added by Bayezid. In the 16th century, Suleiman the Magnificent brought two giant lamps to a Hagia Sophia from a church in Hungary, which he conquered, and today these lamps are located on both sides of the altar.

One of the most famous restorations of Hagia Sophia during the Ottoman period, under the command of Sultan Abdülmecit, was built between 1847 and 1849 under the auspices of Gaspare Fossati and his brother Giuseppe Fossati. Some of the gallery mosaics on the upper floor were cleaned, the ones that were destroyed were covered with plaster and the mosaic motifs on the bottom were painted on this plaster. A new madrasa and muqakkithane were built outside Hagia Sophia. Minarets were brought in the same paint. When this restoration work was completed, the Hagia Sophia was opened to the public again with a ceremony held on 13 July 1849.

Museum Period

A series of works were carried out on the order of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Hagia Sophia, which was closed to the public due to restoration works between 1930 and 1935. These include various restorations, turning the dome with an iron belt, and uncovering and cleaning the mosaics. During the restoration, in line with the principle of secularism, ideas were put forward for the purpose of being converted back to the church, but due to the small number of Christians living in the region, the lack of demand, the possible provocations against such a magnificent church in the region and the historical importance of the architecture were taken into consideration and considering its historical importance, it was converted into a museum with the decision of the Council of Ministers dated 24 November 1934. Ataturk visited the museum, which opened on February 1, 1935, on February 6, 1935. Centuries later, with the removal of the carpets on the marble floor, the magnificent mosaics were brought to light again with the floor covering and the plaster covering the mosaics with human figures.

Architecture of Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia is a domed basilica type building that combines the basilica plan and the central plan in terms of architecture and is considered as an important turning point in the history of architecture with its dome transition and bearing system features.

Hagia Sophia is of paramount importance with its size and architectural structure. In the world of the period it was built, no basilica planned structure could be covered with a dome in the size of the dome of Hagia Sophia and it did not have such a large interior. Although the dome of Hagia Sophia is smaller than the dome of the Pantheon in Rome, the complex and sophisticated system made up of half domes, arches and vaults applied in Hagia Sophia makes the dome more impressive by enabling it to cover a much larger space. Compared to the domes of the previous structures placed on the body walls as a carrier, such a large dome, which was placed on only four piers, is considered a revolution both in technical and aesthetic aspects in the history of architecture.

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