Not many monuments in the world have had the distinct pleasure of being a church, a mosque and a museum at different times in their history. But the Hagia Sophia has experienced all of the above, albeit in its (very) long lifetime. First built as a church in the year 537 C.E. in present day Istanbul, Turkey (then “Constantinople”, capital of the Byzantine Emperor), Hagia Sophia means the “Church of Holy Wisdom”. It was commissioned by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, who reformed Roman law during his reign and established a long-lasting legal code that later set the example for even modern-age governments.
During the one-thousand years in its time as a cathedral, the Hagia Sophia served as the seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople and the setting for Byzantine imperial ceremonies, even coronations. It was the largest cathedral in the world until 1520 when the larger Seville Cathedral was built.
A little breathtaking, isn’t it?
In 1453, Ottoman forces took control of Constantinople under Sultan Mehmed II. In the same year, the cathedral was converted into a mosque. It remained the principal mosque of Istanbul until 1616, when the larger (and the Hagia Sophia-inspired) Blue Mosque was built.
But what’s really interesting is the conversion process. The Turks were particularly inspired by the building itself, and wanted to retain much of its architectural beauty. So they removed the images, bells and some of the other relics, and added four minarets, a minbar (pulpit) and a mihrab (prayer niche). The result is an amalgamation of diverse concepts, beliefs and styles in architecture as well as in society.
The Hagia Sophia itself has been said to have “changed the history of architecture”. And with good reason, no doubt. The interior is adorned with gold mosaics and various colors of marble pillars. It has been said the building feels very light and airy when one walks into it, versus dark and dreary. For a building of its size, this is no ordinary feat. But the hallmark of the Hagia Sophia is its dome. Due to construction and repairs, it’s no longer truly circular, but the concept is astounding. The dome was constructed with 40 arched windows which together create a ring of light, giving it a “floating” effect.
Since 1935, the Hagia Sophia’s been open to the general public in the form of a museum, which combines both Christian and Islamic elements from its near 1500-year history.
When people work together, combine ideas and trust their instincts, nothing is out of reach. The Hagia Sophia’s grandness sparks mainly from its long history, unique adaptations and being a perpetual inspiration to all those who behold it. Every government or nation which transpired around it was always awestruck by its sheer brilliance. And today, we appreciate this remarkable feat that shows—beauty truly is timeless.
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Sources: History.Com, The New York Times, Hagia Sophia, Live Science