Hagia Sophia, Turkish Ayasofya, Latin Sancta Sophia, also called Church of the Holy Wisdom or Church of the Divine Wisdom , cathedral built at Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) in the 6th century A.D. (532–537) under the direction of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I.
Hagia Sophia is a former Christian patriarchal basilica (church), later an imperial mosque, and now a museum.
From the date of its construction in 537 until 1453, it served as a Greek Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire.
The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931. It was then secularized and opened as a museum on 1 February 1935.
Hagia Sophia is the third Church of the Holy Wisdom to have been built on the site. The two that were built earlier were destroyed due to rioting.
Famous in particular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have “changed the history of architecture“.
It contains two floors centered on a giant nave that has a great dome ceiling, along with smaller domes, towering above.
It’s dimensions of 82 meters (270 feet) long and 73 meters (240 feet) wide, sporting a dome 33 meters (108 feet) in diameter with a crown that rises 55 meters (180 feet) from the ground level is formidable at its time of construction.
It remained the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520.
It was designed by the Greek geometers Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles.
The church was dedicated to the Wisdom of God, the Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity, its patronal feast taking place on 25 December, the commemoration of the birth of the incarnation of the Logos in Christ.
Hagia Sophia was the seat of the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople and a principal setting for Byzantine imperial ceremonies, such as crowning ceremonies.
A variety of ornate mosaics were added over the centuries by each emperor after Justinian I. They included imperial portraits, images of the imperial family, different emperors, saints, images of Christ and Virgin Mary with Jesus as a child.
When the church was turned into a mosque they removed the alter, the bells, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels. Also many of the mosaics were eventually plastered over.
It was also added 4 minarets, each 60 meters (200 feet) tall outside the church.
In the museum today there are both Islamic and Christian influences and features.
The 15 meters (50 foot) silver iconostasis from the days when Hagia Sohpia was a church is on display in the museum.
All interior surfaces are sheathed with polychrome marbles, green and white with purple porphyry and gold mosaics, encrusted upon the brick. This sheathing camouflaged the large pillars, giving them, at the same time, a brighter aspect.
Hagia Sophia has 40 windows in the area where worshipers sit and it’s known as famous reflecting mystical light.
After a great earthquake in 989 ruined the dome of Hagia Sophia, the Byzantine officials summoned Trdat the Architect to Byzantium to organize repairs.
The reason the Hagia Sophia was chosen as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world was because of its quintessential Byzantine architectural style.
A large number of mosaics were uncovered in the 1930s by a team from the American Byzantine Institute led by Thomas Whittemore. The team chose to let a number of simple cross images remain covered by plaster, but uncovered all major mosaics found.
Due to its long history as both a church and a mosque, a particular challenge arises in the restoration process. The Christian iconographic mosaics are being gradually uncovered. However, in order to do so, important, historic Islamic art would have to be destroyed. Restorers have attempted to maintain a balance between both Christian and Islamic cultures.