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Hagia Sophia

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Hagia Sophia History

Although there are no artifacts confirming it, it is said that Hagia Sophia was built on the site of an ancient pagan temple. Hagia Sophia underwent two phases of construction before attaining its present state.

Documents indicate that the first Hagia Sophia was built by Emperor Constantius, son of Emperor Constantinos I, and was opened for services in 360 AD. Although very little is known about this Church, it is assumed that it was a basilica-type structure with a rectangular floor plan, circular apse and timbered roof. It was similar to St. Studios, a basilica in Istanbul, the ruins of which still exist. Ancient sources emphasize that the eastern wall was circular.

Constantius donated gold and silver as well as religious objects to his Church, but these were vandalized by Arians during the Council of 381 AD.

Hagia Sophia was first named "Megale Ekklesia" (the Great Church) as it was the largest Church in Constantinople. The historian Socrates indicated that the Church was named Sophia during the reign of Emperor Constantius. The name given to the Church symbolized the second divine attribute of the Holy Trinity. Originally, Sophia, which means "Holy Wisdom", was a name given to Christ by 4th century theologians. Both names, Megale Ekklesia and Hagia Sophia are used today.

The original Church was destroyed in 404 AD by mobs, during the riots, when Emperor Arcadius sent the Patriarch of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, into exile for his open criticism of the Empress.

Reconstruction of the facade of 2. Hagia Sophia Emperor Theodosius II built a new Church which was completed in 415 AD. The architect of this second Church was Ruffinos. The edifice was constructed in basilica style and had five naves. In common with other basilicas of that age, it had a covered roof. The remains of this Church, excavated in 1935, show that a staircase of five steps led to a columned propylaeum in front of the entrance of the building. Including the imperial entrance, there were three doorways in the facade. The results of excavations indicate that Hagia Sophia was 60 metres wide. The length is unknown, since further excavations inside the present-day edifice are not permitted.

During the rebellion of Monophysites in 532, Hagia Sophia was destroyed along with many other important buildings, among which were the Church of St. Eirene, Zorzip Bath and Samsun Hospital.

After resorting to bloodshed, Emperor Justinian succeeded in saving his throne. This revolt is known as the "Nike Revolt" in Byzantine history, since the rebels repeatedly shouted "Nike", the name of the goddess of victory.

Following these events, Emperor Justinian ordered the construction of a new Church which was to surpass in magnificence all earlier Churches. His ambition to make this new Church unique, spurred him on to unremitting effort. Historians write that he personally supervised the construction and made full use of all his empire could offer. The two most famous architects of the age; Anthemius of Tralles (Aydin) and Isidorus of Miletus, were entrusted with the construction of the building. They supervised one hundred master builders and ten thousand labourers.

The finest and rarest materials from the four corners of the empire were brought to Constantinople to be used in the construction of Hagia Sophia. The prophyry columns previously taken to Rome from an Egyptian temple in Heliopolis, ivory and gold icons and ornaments from ancient temples in Ephesus, Kizikos and Baalbek were among them. The construction was completed in a very short time.

It took five years, ten months and four days, from February 23rd 532 to December 27th 537. During the dedication ceremony, Emperor Justinian put aside formalities of state and entered the Church excitedly, to say a prayer of thanks to God for allowing him to fulfill his dearest wish. He cried with pride, remembering the temple in Jerusalem "Oh, Solomon, I have surpassed thee".

Later, the Church was damaged many times by earthquakes and fires, and had to be repaired and reinforced.

On August 15th 553, January 14th 557 and May 7th 559, earthquakes destroyed the eastern side of the dome. The damage was repaired by the nephew of the original architect, Isidorus. He increased the height of the dome by 2.65 metres and built buttresses in the form of towers to support the dome.

On February 9th 869, during the reign of Emperor Basil I (867-886), an earthquake damaged the western side of the building. It was repaired in 870. On October 25th 986, a violent earthquake resulted in the collapse of the western apse and caused partial damage to the dome. The Church had to be closed until the architect Tridat finished repairing it in 994.

In 1204, the Church was sacked by the Fourth Crusaders. During the Palaeologian age, Emperor Michael VIII (1261-1282) had Hagia Sophia repaired by the architect Ruchas, and the buttressesin the south-west were added at that time.

In 1317, during the reign of Emperor Andronicus II, the north-eastern and south-western walls were reinforced on the exterior by pyramid-shaped buttresses.

In 1348, the eastern half of the dome collapsed and was afterwards repaired. In the first half of the 15th century, travellers and other sources described Hagia Sophia as being in a state of disrepair.

When the Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, the Church was converted into a mosque, a place of Islamic worship. To begin with, Turks preserved the frescoes and mosaic figures of Christian saints which decorated the walls. However, in the 16th century, these were completely covered by plaster, since the Islamic code forbids figural representation.

After it became a mosque, the following changes, necessitated by Islamic architectural standards, were made:

Sultan Mehmed II "the Conqueror" built an altar (mihrap) in the east, since the apse should be in the direction of Mecca and the brick minaret on the south-east corner of the edifice.

Sultan Bayezid (1484-1512) added a minaret on the north-east corner.

Hagia Sophia History The Turkish architect Sinan, built the two minarets in front of the Church during the reign of Sultan Murad III (1574-1535). Murad III also had water urns of the Hellenistic period (300 BC) brought to the mosque from Bergama.

The pulpit (minber) and preacher's pew (muezzin mahfili) were added to the interior during the reign of Murad IV.

In 1739, Sultan Mahmud I built a library and a primary school (mekteh-i sibyan) in the south.

In 1850, Sultan Abdulmecit added the present day Imperial Pew. During his reign (1833-1861), important repairs were entrusted to the Swiss architect Gaspare Fossati. He removed the plaster covering the mosaics and then replastered them. He decorated these newly plastered areas with frescoes. The building was completely renovated inside and out. An horologion was built to the south of the structure.

In 1926, the government of the new Republic of Turkey, appointed a technical commission to investigate the architectural and static state of the building thoroughly. According to the commission's report, the foundation of the structure rested solidly on a bed of rock. Following Kemal Ataturk's orders, Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum on February 1st 1935. Ataturk visited the museum a few days later, on February 6th 1935.