Hagia Sophia Church | A Legacy Of Faith And Architecture

Right in the heart of Istanbul is the Hagia Sophia, a living testimony of the Turkish capital’s wildly fascinating past combining the history of three major empires. The Hagia Sophia, the most distinguished landmark of Istanbul, is deemed one of the world’s greatest monuments. Constructed in the 6th century, the structure was rebuilt from a destroyed church into its current magnificence. Hagia Sophia, which was then known as the Church of Holy Wisdom, was the world’s largest cathedral for a millennium. When Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) fell to the Ottomans in the mid-fifteenth century, the Cathedral was converted into a mosque and became the first imperial mosque of Istanbul.

Hagia Sophia is the greatest surviving example of Byzantine architecture. Although the Ottomans converted the ancient cathedral into a Hagia Sophia mosque, they never destroyed the Christian elements, but only covered them up with Islamic arts. It was with the 20th-century modernisation of Turkey that the Hagia Sophia became a museum, and was recently reconverted back into a mosque. Hagia Sophia is a unique amalgamation of Christian and Islamic traditions and is one of the world’s greatest architectural and cultural icons.

A Brief Look At Hagia Sophia Church

A Brief Look At Hagia Sophia Church
  • The Hagia Sophia Church was preceded by two churches, one by Constantine the Great and another by Theodosius II, that were destroyed in riots.
  • The location of this church was consecrated for the first time in 360 CE, which made it more than a millennium old by the time it was converted into a mosque.
  • The material used to construct the Hagia Sophia Church came from all parts of the Byzantine empire. The Yellow stone came from Syria, Hellenic Columns were from Ephesus’ Artemis Temple, porphyry and green marble came from Egypt, and black stone came from Bosporus.
  • More than 10,000 workers were employed to construct the Hagia Sophia’s ‘floating’ dome.
  • The Hagia Sophia Church was the seat of Orthodox Christianity and was the largest cathedral in the world for a millennium.

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Stages Of Hagia Sophia Church

Constantine’s Church
Constantine’s Church

The first church constructed at the location of the modern-day Hagia Sophia was a replacement for an ancient Pagan temple. Referred to as the Magna Ecclesia in Latin or the ‘Great Church’, Constantine’s Church was commissioned by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great and was inaugurated by his successor, Constantius II, in 360 CE. Constantine’s Church had a basilica with a wooden roof, an atrium, and a nave that had two or four aisles, each of which carried a gallery storey. The Magna Ecclesia survived for half a century and was burned down in 404 CE in riots. The church was later revived by Theodosius II.

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Theodosius II’s Church
Theodosius II’s Church

After the destruction of Constantine’s Church, Theodosius II ordered the restoration and renovation of the damaged structure. The second church was inaugurated by the emperor in 405 CE and survived for more than a century. Theodosius II’s Church had the classic Byzantine architectural features, like the atrium, a narthex, and a basilica with many galleries. Theodosius II’s Church was completely destroyed during the Nika Revolts of 532. Marble blocks from this church are on display in the courtyard of the third church, the modern-day Hagia Sophia.

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Justinian’s Church
Justinian’s Church

The Hagia Sophia Church was commissioned by the Byzantine emperor, Justinian the Great. Created by architects Anthemius of Tralles and Elder Isidore of Miletus, the material used in the construction came from all over the empire. It was inaugurated in 537 CE and was the largest cathedral in the world for a millennium. The seat of the Orthodox Church, Hagia Sophia was destroyed numerous times over the centuries by earthquakes and fires. The eighth-century Iconoclasm and the ransacking by Latin Christians during the Fourth Crusade led to the loss of mosaics and other art relics. The Hagia Sophia Church had been a Roman Catholic Cathedral in the thirteenth century before being converted back to Orthodoxy by the Byzantines in the fourteenth century.

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Hagia Sophia Church Today

The Hagia Sophia Church in Istanbul in its early years, was solely a Christian church and was called Magna Ecclesia. Constructed in the 6th century CE under the guidance of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, it stood as a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture. Initially dedicated as a Christian place of worship, Hagia Sophia served as the principal cathedral of the Eastern Orthodox Church for nearly a thousand years. Its grandeur and design were a testament to the skill and devotion of its builders, and it functioned exclusively as a center of Christian worship during this time. 

The church's magnificent architectural splendor and mosaics showcased its primary role as a place of reverence for the Christian faith. Today, Hagia Sophia is used as a place of Islamic worship, but its history as a Christian church continues to be a prominent part of its identity.

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Hagia Sophia Church FAQs

What happened to the church of Hagia Sophia?

    The Hagia Sophia Church was converted into the first imperial mosque of Istanbul when the city fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453. The Hagia Sophia was preceded by two churches, both of which had been burnt down in separate riots through the centuries. Today, Hagia Sophia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, representing its historical and cultural significance.

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