Hagia Sophia [Greek: Holy Wisdom]
designed by architects Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles
constructed by Justinian between 532 and 537
consecrated by Justinian and Patriarch Eutychius on December 27, 537
reconstruction by Justinian completed in 562, following the collapse of the main dome during an earthquake in 558
rededicated by Justinian on December 23, 562
converted into an imperial mosque in 1453 by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II
transformed into a museum in 1935 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (the first Turkish President and founder of the Republic of Turkey)
a domed basilica, with forty windows at base of dome
basilica: 240×270' (73.15×82.3m)
central dome: diameter 104.56' (31.87m), height from floor level 182.42' (55.6m)
Istanbul, Turkey [Constantinople]
Nothing remains of the original Hagia Sophia, which was built on this site in the fourth century by Constantine the Great. Constantine was the first Christian emperor and the founder of the city of Constantinople [Istanbul after 1453], which he called "the New Rome," and which eventually became the capitol of the Byzantine Empire. The Hagia Sophia was one of several great churches Constantine built in important cities throughout his empire. It was first dedicated in 360 by Emperor Constantius, son of Constantine. Hagia Sophia served as the cathedral, or bishop's seat, of the city. Originally called Megale Ekklesia (Great Church), the name Hagia Sophia came into use around 430. In the early fifth century, the patriarch of Constantinople John Chrysostom got into a conflict with Empress Aelia Eudoxia, wife of the Emperor Arcadius and was sent into exile on June 20, 404. During the subsequent riots, this first church was largely burned down.
The fire that started during the tumult of the Nika Revolt, resulted in the destruction of the (second) Hagia Sophia on January 13-14, 532. Several marble blocks of this second church have survived to our date, and are displayed in the garden of the current (third) church. These marble slabs were excavated in the western courtyard by A.M. Schneider in 1935. They were part of a monumental front entrance.
On February 23, 532, only a few days after the destruction of the second basilica, Emperor Justinian I (ruled 527–65) decided to build a third and entirely different basilica, larger and more majestic than its predecessors. He appointed the architects Isidorus and Anthemius, who seem to have been influenced by the mathematical theories of Archimedes (around 287–212 B.C.E.) and Heron of Alexandria's writings on vaults and arch support (first century C.E.). The emperor, together with the patriarch Eutychius, inaugurated the new basilica on December 27, 537. The surviving main structure is essentially that which was first built between 532 and 537. The mosaics inside the church were, however, only completed under the reign of Emperor Justin II (ruled 565-578).
Earthquakes in August 553 and on December 14, 577, caused cracks in the main dome and the eastern half-dome. The main dome collapsed completely during an earthquake on May 7, 558, destroying the ambon, the altar and the ciborium over it. The emperor ordered an immediate restoration. He entrusted it to Isodorus the Younger, nephew of Isidore of Miletus. He used lighter materials and elevated the dome by 6.25 meters, thus giving the building its current interior height of 55.6 meters. The reconstruction was completed in 562. The Byzantine poet Paul the Silentiary composed an extant, long epic poem, known as "Ekphrasis," for the rededication of the basilica on December 23, 562.
In 726 the Emperor Leo the Isaurian ordered the army to destroy all icons (images). At that time, all religious pictures and statues were removed from the Hagia Sophia. After a brief reprieve under Empress Irene (ruled 797-802), the iconoclasts (image-destroyers) made a comeback. Emperor Theophilus (ruled 829-842) was strongly influenced by Islamic art, forbidding graven images. He had a two-winged bronze door with his monograms installed at the southern entrance of the church.
The basilica suffered damage, first by a great fire in 859, and again by an earthquake on January 8, 869, that caused a half-dome collapse. Emperor Basil I ordered the church to be repaired. After the great earthquake of October 25, 989, which ruined the great dome of Hagia Sophia, the Byzantine emperor Basil II asked for the Armenian architect Trdat, creator of the great churches of Ani and Agine, to repair the dome.. The magnitude of the destruction in the church caused reconstruction to last six years. The church was re-opened on May 13, 994.
During the European occupation of Constantinople (1204–1261) the church became a Roman Catholic cathedral. Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice who commanded the sack and invasion of the city by the European Crusaders in 1204, during the Fourth Crusade, is buried inside the church. After the Turkish leader Mehmed II's conquest of the city in 1453, Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque (Ayasofya Camii), which it remained until the fall of the Ottoman empire in the early twentieth century. During this period, minarets were built around the perimeter of the building complex, Christian mosaic icons were covered with whitewash, and exterior buttresses were added for structural support. In the sixteenth century, during the reign of Selim II, the building started showing signs of fatigue and was extensively strengthened with the addition of structural supports to its exterior by the great Ottoman architect Sinan who is also considered one of the first earthquake engineers in the world. In addition to strengthening the historic Byzantine structure, Sinan built the two large minarets at west, the original sultan's loge, and the mausoleum of Selim II to the southeast of the building in 1577. The mausoleums of Murad III and Mehmed III were built next to it in the 1600s. Mahmud I ordered the restoration of the building in 1739 and added an ablution fountain, a Koranic school, a soup kitchen and library, thus transforming it into a külliye, i.e. a social complex. The most famous restoration of the Hagia Sophia was ordered by Sultan Abdülmecid and completed between 1847 and 1849 under the supervision of the Swiss-Italian architect brothers Gaspare and Giuseppe Fossati. The brothers consolidated the dome and vaults, straightened the columns, and revised the decoration of the exterior and the interior of the building. In 1935, the first Turkish President and founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, transformed the building into a museum. The carpets were removed and the marble floor decorations appeared for the first time in centuries, while the white plaster that covered the mosaics was peeled off to restore the original mosaics.
The sixth-century Byzantine poet Paul the Silentiary, who was a member of Justinian's court, wrote an ecphrasis [hymn of praise] of the Hagia Sophia. Here are some extracts:
A millennium later, European Gothic architecture would reduplicate the primary feature of Hagia Sophia's interior: the mysticism of light. Hagia Sophia is famous for the mystical quality of light that reflects everywhere in the interior of the nave. The forty windows at the base of the dome create the illusion that the dome is hovering above the nave, resting on the light that pours through the windows. 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 dome is supported by pendentives which had never been used before the building of this structure. The pendentives are triangular segments of a sphere, that taper to points at the bottom and spread at the top to establish the continuous circular base needed for the dome. In masonry the pendentives thus receive the weight of the dome, concentrating it at the four corners where it can be received by the piers beneath. 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.
Above all rises into the immeasurable air the great helmet [of the dome], which, bending over, like the radiant heavens, embraces the church. And at the highest part, at the crown, was depicted the cross, the protector of the city. And wondrous it is to see how the dome gradually rises wide below, and growing less as it reaches higher. it does not however spring upwards to a sharp point, but is like the firmament which rests on air, though the dome is fixed on the strong backs of the arches....Everywhere the walls glitter with wondrous designs, the stone for which came from the quarries of seagirt Proconnesus. The marbles are cut and joined like painted patterns, and in stones formed into squares or eight-sided figures the veins meet to form devices; and the stones show also the forms of living creatures. . . . A thousand others [lamps] within the temple show their gleaming light, hanging aloft by chains of many windings. Some are placed in the aisles, others in the centre or to east and west, or on the crowning walls, shedding the brightness of flame. Thus the night seems to flout the light of day, and be itself as rosy as the dawn.... Thus through the spaces of the great church come rays of light, expelling clouds of care, and filling the mind with joy. The sacred light cheers all: even the sailor guiding his bark on the waves, leaving behind him the unfriendly billows of the raging Pontus, and winding a sinuous course amidst creeks and rocks, with heart fearful at the dangers of his nightly wanderings-perchance he has left the Aegean and guides his ship against adverse currents in the Hellespont, awaiting with taut forestay the onslaught of a storm from Africa-does not guide his laden vessel by the light of Cynosure, or the circling Bear, but by the divine light of the church Itself. Yet not Only does it guide the merchant at night, like the rays from the Pharos on the coast of Africa, but it also shows the way to the living God. Translated by W. Lethaby and H. Swainson, from "Paul the Silentiary," in The Church of St. Sophia Constantinople, (New York, NY: 1894), pp. 42-52.
Light is the mystic element. It glitters in the mosaics, shines forth from the marbles, and pervades and defines the spaces of the sanctuary. The fifth-century Neoplatonic Christian mystic Pseudo-Dionysius wrote:
From the Good comes the light which is an image of Goodness; wherefore the Good is described by the name of "Light," being the archetype thereof which is revealed in that image. For as the Goodness of the all-transcendent Godhead reaches from the highest and most perfect forms of being unto the lowest, and still is beyond them all, remaining superior to those above and retaining those below in its embrace, and so gives light to all things that can receive It, and creates and vitalizes and maintains and perfects them, and is the Measure of the Universe and its Eternity, its Numerical Principle, its Order, its Embracing Power, its Cause and its End: even so this great, all-bright and ever-shining sun, which is the visible image of the Divine Goodness, faintly reechoing the activity of the Good, illumines all things that can receive its light while retaining the utter simplicity of light, and expands above and below throughout the visible world the beams of its own radiance.Abstract? Yes, a spiritual vision. The light of Hagia Sophia seems to disolve material substance and transform it into the a vastness of space. God's space.
-- On the Divine Names and the Mystical Theology, translated by Clarence Edwin Rolt
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