With a chequered history that spans across centuries, symbolisms and influences from two major religions and innovative architectural features, the Hagia Sophia is one of the greatest endeavours and most significant creations of mankind. The form of the present structure dates back to 532CE and was commissioned by the Byzantine emperor Justinian, with physicist Isidore and mathematician Anthemius as the architects. Within a short period of five years, they created a masterpiece that would remain the largest cathedral on earth for nearly a thousand years.
Hagia Sophia’s large nave is covered by a central ribbed dome that soars an incredible 180 feet into the air. The dome is carried on four spherical triangular pendentives, which transfer its massive weight from the dome’s circular base to the rectangular structure below. The interiors were lavishly adorned with mosaics, mostly from the 9th to 12th centuries showcasing Christ, the Virgin Mother, saints and emperors.
In 1453, with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque on the orders of Sultan Mehmet II. A number of Christian relics such as the altar, bells, and sacrificial vessels were removed while many of the mosaics were covered with plaster.
A mihrab and pulpit were added to the interiors to facilitate worship in the mosque, along with the four minarets that were constructed on the corners of the original structure. Large medallions with Islamic calligraphy and an Imperial Lodge for the sultan to worship from, were further added to the mosque’s interiors in the mid-19th century.
When Turkey became a republic in 1935, the founding father Mustafa Kemal Atatürk decreed that the Hagia Sophia be transformed into a museum, thus making it accessible to people from all faiths and cultures. Multiple restorations have been carried subsequently, including uncovering of many of the original mosaics, giving the Hagia Sophia a unique mix of Christian and Islamic art and iconography.
Text And Photos By Kunal Bhatia