Istanbul’s diverse past as the capital city of three great empires can be witnessed at one spectacular location, the Hagia Sophia. The sixth-century architectural masterpiece was once a cathedral, then a mosque, then a museum, and finally a mosque again. Hagia Sophia holds a place of importance in the world of history and art due to its unique past.
Constructed as a cathedral by the Byzantine emperor Justinian, the Hagia Sophia is the most magnificent surviving example of Byzantine architecture. The Ottomans added traditional Islamic architectural features, like the four minarets, mihrab, and minbar, without altering the original Hagia Sophia architecture. As the centuries passed, Hagia Sophia became an unmatched blend of ancient Byzantine architecture and traditional Ottoman Islamic features. It was converted into a museum in 1934, which led to the restoration of old Byzantine art that had been covered up by the mosque builders.
The most prominent feature of Hagia Sophia architecture is its world-renowned central dome. An awe-inspiring marvel of the Byzantine era, the dome floats at the centre of the structure supported by two semi-domes. The semi-domes add up to the colossal dimensions of the dome, which measures 31.24 metres in diameter and 55.60 metres in height.
Hagia Sophia’s dome stands on four pendentives and two arched openings. The pendentives allow the transition from the circular dome to the square piers beneath by distributing the weight of the dome to the walls of the structure. Due to several reconstructions and repairs over the centuries, the dome has lost its circular shape, and now measures 30.86 metres in diameter.
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The stunning beauty of Hagia Sophia architecture is best reflected in its interiors, which are a testament to its changing fate over the centuries. Lined with huge marble slabs, the interiors create an illusion of flowing waters.
The central dome creates an enormous uninterrupted nave as it is supported by two semi-domes and arched openings. While the pendentives had stunning mosaics of six-winged angels, the arched openings have floor-to-ceiling porphyry columns. The nave had Byzantine mosaics, which were covered over with enchanting Ottoman calligraphy. Apart from the Ottoman additions of the minbar and mihrab, eight gigantic medallions with fine Arabic calligraphy were hung on the nave columns.
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Among the several Ottoman additions to the Byzantine Hagia Sophia architecture, the four minarets of the legendary structure are the most prominent. Minarets are a mainstay of traditional Islamic Mosque architecture and were added to Hagia Sophia gradually over the centuries of Ottoman rule.
The southeast minaret is the oldest where you can witness some amazing use of red brick. The other three minarets are made of white limestone and sandstone, and the western two are identical, which completed Hagia Sophia as a mosque. The adornments on the four minarets were added during repairs and reconstructions to the Hagia Sophia under the Sultans, and reflect the artistic traditions of various periods.
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A highlight of Hagia Sophia architecture, the sixth-century stone floor dates back to Byzantine emperor Justinian’s era. The floor was a part of the liturgy and was demarcated into important spaces with stones and marble of vibrant colours.
The floor is primarily constructed from Proconnesian marble, while some segments are made from marble like the Thessalian verd antique. Ever since its installation, the floor was praised by numerous accounts and compared to the flowing waters of rivers or seas. The Ottoman conquest changed its fate when it was covered underneath a carpet when the Hagia Sophia became a mosque.
Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage site, had been adorned with breathtaking mosaics of the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, Christian saints, emperors, and empresses in the Byzantine era. While the earliest mosaics were lost in the Iconoclasm, the surviving ones can be dated back to Orthodoxy and reached their peak under the Byzantine emperors Basil I and Constantine VII. Hagia Sophia was sacked by Crusaders, which resulted in the removal of several mosaics. The greatest blow came with the Ottoman occupation of Constantinople, which led to a complete cover-up of the mosaics with whitewash or plaster. The 1847 Fosatti Brothers’ restoration led to uncovering and recording of the mosaics, but it was only in 1934 that the ancient art was finally displayed for the world to see.
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Hagia Sophia's architecture is a masterpiece that showcases the brilliance of ancient engineering and art. Built in the 6th century during the Byzantine Empire, its enormous dome stands as an architectural wonder, ingeniously designed to appear weightless. The structure combines elements of Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman architecture, reflecting its rich history and cultural significance. Inside, visitors are mesmerized by stunning mosaics depicting biblical scenes and intricate marble work. The grand interior and vast open spaces exemplify the genius of its architects, Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus. Today, as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Hagia Sophia continues to awe and inspire millions of visitors, leaving an indelible mark on the world of architecture and art.
What style of architecture is the Hagia Sophia?
The Hagia Sophia stands as one of the most remarkable historical landmarks of Turkey, showcasing the exquisite beauty of Byzantine architecture that has endured through the ages. A true testament to Istanbul's rich and evolving history, this awe-inspiring structure also incorporates elements of the captivating Ottoman architectural styles.
What architectural elements are in Hagia Sophia?
Hagia Sophia architecture includes an Orthodox longitudinal basilica, a 32-metre massive dome supported on four pendentives and two semi-domes, and marble flooring that resembles flowing waters. Ottoman additions include the four minarets, a mihrab, and a minbar.
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Who is the architect of the Hagia Sophia?
The Hagia Sophia was commissioned by the Byzantine emperor Justinian to architects Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles.
What is the most significant architectural feature of the Hagia Sophia?
The most significant feature of Hagia Sophia architecture is its ‘floating’ central dome. The stunning dome has massive dimensions and creates the illusion that it is suspended in mid-air with no real support. Its unique architecture has awed and intrigued scholars and visitors for centuries.
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How was the dome of Hagia Sophia built?
The Hagia Sophia dome is constructed out of brick and mortar and was built over a square base. It is supported by two semi-domes that add up to its diameter and four pendentives that help the transition of the circular structure into the square shape of the base. This was an innovation that helped support the dome and create the illusion that it was ‘floating’ in the air.
What is the Hagia Sophia best known for?
Hagia Sophia was a hub of religious, artistic, and political life under two great empires, the Byzantines and the Ottomans. As the central feature of both empires, Hagia Sophia was greatly influenced by the developments and changes that occurred throughout their long histories.
Hagia Sophia is covered by historians, art historians, architects and scholars alike for its significant position in the art and cultural history of the last 1,500 years. It also holds religious and spiritual importance to the followers of the two religions that had Hagia Sophia as their crucial symbol for centuries.
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