Tuesday, August 22, 2017


Sultanahmet, Fatih - Istanbul - Turkey

GPS : 41°00'28.0"N 28°58'44.6"E / 41.007789, 28.979059


The Byzantine Church of Hagia Sophia stands atop the first hill of Constantinople at the tip of the historic peninsula, surrounded by the waters of the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn on three sides. It was built by Justinian I between 532 and 537 and is located in close proximity to the Great Palace of the Emperors, the Hippodrome, and the Church of Hagia Irene. The third known church to be built at its site since 360, the Justinian church replaced the smaller basilica built by Theodosius II in 415, which burnt down in the Nika riots against Justinian I and Empress Theodora.

Beginning construction immediately after suppressing the revolt, Justinian commissioned physicist Isidoros of Miletus, and mathematician Anthemios of Thrales (today's Aydın) to build a church larger and more permanent than its precedents to unify the church and reassert his authority as the emperor. There is little that remains from the earlier churches beside the baptistery and the skeuophylakion. The skeuophylakion, a round building that houses the patriarchal treasure, is located off the east corner and the baptistery, which was converted into an Ottoman tomb in 1639, stands to the southwest.

The grand dome of the Hagia Sophia, an impressive technical feat for its time, is often thought to symbolize the infinity of the cosmos signified by the Holy Soul to which the church was dedicated. It took five years to reconstruct the dome after it collapsed in an earthquake in 557. The new dome, which is taller and braced with forty ribs, was partially rebuilt after damage in the 859 and 989 earthquakes. Plundered during the Latin invasion following the Forth Crusade in 1204, the church was restored under Andronicos II during Palaeologan rule. The great southeast arch was reconstructed after the 1344 earthquake.

As the Cathedral of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople for over a thousand years, with the brief exception of the Latin occupation, the Hagia Sophia was the center of Eastern Christianity from 360 to the Ottoman conversion. Its importance as the center of religious authority in the Byzantine capital was compounded with its role as the primary setting for state rituals and pageantry. The Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, which put an end to the Byzantine Empire, began the era of Islamic worship in the holy structure, which Mehmed II converted into a mosque immediately after his conquest.

Known then on as the Ayasofya Mosque, the Hagia Sophia remained the Great Mosque of the Ottoman capital until its secularization under the Turkish Republic In 1934. Little was modified during the initial conversion when a mihrab, a minber and a wooden minaret were added to the structure. Mehmed II built a madrasa near the mosque and organized a waqf for its expenses. Extensive restorations were conducted by Mimar Sinan during the rule of Selim II; the original sultan's lodge was added at this time.

Mimar Sinan built the Tomb of Selim II to the southeast of the mosque in 1577 and the tombs of Murad III and Mehmed III were built next to it in the 1600s. Mahmud I, who ordered a restoration of the mosque in 1739, added an ablution fountain, Koranic school, soup kitchen and library, making the mosque the center of a social complex.

Perhaps the most well known restoration of the Hagia Sophia was completed between 1847-49 during the rule of Abdülmecid II, who invited Swiss architects Gaspare and Guiseppe Fossati to renovate the building. In addition to consolidating the dome and vaults and straightening columns, the two architects brothers revised the decoration of the exterior and the interior. The discovery of the figural mosaics after the secularization of Hagia Sophia, was guided by the descriptions of the Fossati brothers who uncovered them a century earlier for cleaning and recording. An earlier record of the Hagia Sophia mosaics is found in the travel sketches of Swedish engineer Cornelius Loos from 1710-1711.

The period of systematic study, restoration and cleaning of Hagia Sophia, initiated by the Byzantine Institute of the United States and the Dumbarton Oaks Field Committee in the 1940s, still continues to our day. Archaeological research led by K. J. Conant, W. Emerson, R. L. Van Nice, P.A. Underwood, T. Whittemore, E. Hawkins, R. J. Mainstone and C. Mango have illuminated different aspects related to the history, structure and decoration of the Justinian church. A. M. Schneider and F. Dirimtekin after him have excavated remains of the earlier churches outside the Justinian church.

A colloquium convened at Princeton University in 1989 has led the way towards a computer-based structural modeling of the church directed by Prof. A. Çakmak. This work has provided the basis for a new restoration project underway since 1995 that focuses on structural monitoring to gauge long-term stability of the structure along with historical restoration. The Hagia Sophia was included in the annual list of 100 most endangered monuments published by the World Monuments Fund in 1996 and in 1998, to secure funds for continued work. Considered a significant influence on the conception of classical Ottoman architecture, the Hagia Sophia is open to visitors as a public museum.


The Hagia Sophia is a domed basilica, oriented on the northwest-southeast axis. Entered from the northwest through an outer and inner narthex, the church consists of a rectangular nave flanked by an aisle and gallery on the sides and an apsidal sanctuary, projecting southeast. Each narthex comprises nine cross-vaulted bays; the narthexes were originally preceded by a large atrium enclosed by a colonnade, portions of which were still standing in the 1870s. The inner narthex is taller than, and about twice as wide as, the outer narthex, and has a second level linked to the nave galleries. It is lit by a row of clerestory windows to the northwest.

Passages attached to either end of the inner narthex give access to the gallery. The passage to the southwest also served as the ceremonial entrance for emperors; its entryway is adorned with a pair of elaborate bronze doors with 9th century monograms. Its inner door has a 10th century mosaic in its lunette depicting Emperors Constantine and Justinian offering models of Constantinople and Hagia Sophia to enthroned Virgin and Christ. While the outer narthex is largely devoid of decoration, the walls of the inner narthex are lined with polychrome marble panels and bordered by a deep continuous frieze and its vaults are adorned with mosaics with geometric motifs and crosses on a gold background.

Nine doors lead from the inner narthex into the nave. The tall entryway at the center is called the Imperial Door and is crowned by a mosaic depicting an emperor prostrating before Christ Pantocrator, flanked by portraits of the Virgin and Archangel Gabriel. The nave is roughly twice as long as it is wide without the flanking galleries including the galleries. It has four niches at the corners, which are carved into the aisle and galleries. A grand dome, crowns the nave. Its forty windows, located between supporting ribs at the base, give the impression of floating.

An overwhelmingly magnificent nave welcomes the visitor. The dome makes itself felt from the very first step. It gives the impression of being suspended in the air and covers the entire space. The walls and the ceilings are covered with marble and mosaics, creating a colorful appearance. The three different tones of color observed in the mosaic decorations of the dome indicate three different restorations. It is still one of the largest domes in the world with its height and diameter. Due to later restorations, the 55.60 meter high dome is not perfectly round. Its diameter measures 31.87 m from north to south and 30.87 m from east to west.

Four winged angels with their faces covered decorate the four pendentives which support the dome. The wide rectangular central space, measuring 74.67 x 69.80 m, is divided from the dark side naves by columns. There are altogether 107 columns on the ground floor and the galleries. The marble column capitals of Hagia Sophia are the most characteristic and distinctive examples of the 6th century classical Byzantine decorative art in the building. The deep carvings on the marble, in typical medieval style, produce impressive effects of light and shadow. In the center there are imperial monograms.

At its apex, originally adorned with a mosaic of Christ Pantocrator, is a calligraphic medallion quoting the Light Verse (24:35), inscribed by Mustafa Izzet Efendi during the Fossati restoration. The weight of the dome is carried on pendentives and four colossal piers, which are connected by arcades separating the aisle and galleries. The aisle is significantly taller than the galleries, where the intercolumnal width has been kept smaller to maintain the proportion. To the northwest and southeast, single arches braced by large semi-domes receive the lateral loads and distribute it to three smaller semi-domes that crown the nave niches and - to the southeast - the sanctuary apse.

The length of clear span afforded by the combination of the central dome and the semi-domes was unprecedented at the time of Hagia Sophia's construction. To the northeast and southwest, in contrast, heavy double arches and pier buttresses were erected to counter the thrust of the dome. The disparity of the type and strength of structural support provided by the these two supporting systems has in time caused the elliptical deformation of the dome base, whose diameter varies from 32.2 meters on the longitudinal axis to 32.7 meters along the transverse axis.

Other factors, such as haste of original construction and uneven repair of vaulting through the centuries have multiplied the effects of the deformation, also visible on the piers and the grand arches. Flying buttresses were added to the northwest façade as early as the 9th or 10th century, supplemented by the construction of buttresses to the south and southeast by Andronicus II in early 13th century, amended by the Ottomans. These additions, among others, have transformed the exterior appearance of the church and the quality of light inside the nave and galleries.

The nave is paved with marble panels, which were revealed after the prayer rugs were removed in 1934. Its porphyry and verde antico columns, which were gathered from pagan temples of Western Anatolia, are crowned with elaborately carved capitals that bear the monogram of Justinian I. The decorative cornices separating the aisle, gallery and clerestory levels brace the structure and provide lateral support. There are no figural mosaics remaining of the original decoration of the church, which lasted well into the rule of Justinius II (565-578) after the completion of the structure.

Of the mosaics set after the Iconoclastic era (726-842), some were lost to earthquakes, water damage and, most recently, tourists. The oldest mosaic in the church is found in the apse semi-dome and depicts the Virgin and the Child. Two angels are depicted on the semi-dome arch; the one on the right, mostly intact, is Archangel Gabriel. Above, to the left and right, mosaics of local saints lined up below clerestory windows and frescoes depicting Seraphim adorn the pendentives.

A large amount of mosaics remains covered in the dome, whose roofing was recently renovated to prevent water damage during their conservation. Some of the most famous mosaics, including a Deisis panel and imperial portraits, are found in the southwest gallery, which was used for religious meetings and ceremonies.


Hagia Sophia is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. Of great artistic value was its decorated interior with mosaics and marble pillars and coverings. The temple itself was so richly and artistically decorated that Justinian proclaimed, "Solomon, I have surpassed thee!" Justinian himself had overseen the completion of the greatest cathedral ever built up to that time, and it was to remain the largest cathedral for 1,000 years up until the completion of the cathedral in Seville in Spain.

Justinian's basilica was at once the culminating architectural achievement of late antiquity and the first masterpiece of Byzantine architecture. Its influence, both architecturally and liturgically, was widespread and enduring in the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Muslim worlds alike. Under Justinian's orders, eight Corinthian columns were disassembled from Baalbek, Lebanon and shipped to Constantinople for the construction of Hagia Sophia.

The vast interior has a complex structure. The vast nave is covered by a central dome which has a maximum diameter of 31.24 metres (102 ft 6 in) and a height from floor level of 55.6 metres (182 ft 5 in), about one fourth smaller than the dome of the Pantheon. The dome seems rendered weightless by the unbroken arcade of 40 arched windows under it, which help flood the colourful interior with light. Due to consecutive repairs in the course of its history, the dome has lost its perfect circular base and has become somewhat elliptical with a diameter varying between 31.24 m (102 ft 6 in) and 30.86 m (101 ft 3 in).

The dome is carried on pendentives - four concave triangular sections of masonry which solve the problem of setting the circular base of a dome on a rectangular base. At Hagia Sophia the weight of the dome passes through the pendentives to four massive piers at the corners. Between them the dome seems to float upon four great arches. These were reinforced with buttresses during Ottoman times, under the guidance of the architect Sinan.

At the western (entrance) and eastern (liturgical) ends, the arched openings are extended by half domes carried on smaller semi-domed exedras. Thus a hierarchy of dome-headed elements builds up to create a vast oblong interior crowned by the main dome, a sequence unexampled in antiquity. Despite all these measures, the weight of the dome remained a problem, which was solved by adding buttresses from the outside.

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. On the exterior, simple stuccoed walls reveal the clarity of massed vaults and domes. The yellow and red colour of the exterior was added by the architect Fossati during the restorations in the 19th century.


The dome of Hagia Sophia has spurred particular interest for many art historians and architects because of the innovative way the original architects envisioned the dome. The dome is supported by pendentives which had never been used before the building of this structure. The pendentive enables the round dome to transition gracefully into the square shape of the piers below. The pendentives not only achieve a pleasing aesthetic quality, but they also restrain the lateral forces of the dome and allow the weight of the dome to flow downward.

Although this design stabilizes the dome and the surrounding walls and arches, the actual construction of the walls of Hagia Sophia weakened the overall structure. The bricklayers used more mortar than brick, which weakened the walls. The structure would have been more stable if the builders at least let the mortar cure before they began the next layer; however, they did not do this. When the dome was placed atop the building, the weight of the dome caused the walls to lean outward because of the wet mortar underneath.

When Isidorus the Younger rebuilt the original dome, he had to first build up the interior of the walls so that they were vertical in order to support the weight of the new dome. Another probable change in the design of the dome when it was rebuilt was the actual height of the dome. Isidore the Younger raised the height of the dome by approximately twenty feet so that the lateral forces would not be as strong and the weight of the dome would flow more easily down the walls.

A second interesting fact about the original structure of the dome was how the architects were able to place forty windows around the base of the dome. Hagia Sophia is famous for the mystical quality of light that reflects everywhere in the interior of the nave, which gives the dome the appearance of hovering above the nave.

This design is possible because the dome is shaped like a scalloped shell or the inside of an umbrella with ribs that extend from the top of the dome down to the base. These ribs allow the weight of the dome to flow between the windows, down the pendentives, and ultimately to the foundation. The anomalies in the design of Hagia Sophia show how this structure is one of the most advanced and ambitious monuments of late antiquity.


WEB SITE : Hagia Sophia Museum Administration

E-Mail : ayasofyamuzesi@kultur.gov.tr
Phone : +90 212 522 1750 / Tel: +90 212 522 0989
Fax : +90 212 512 5474

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