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. Also Explore: Blue Mosque & Hagia Sophia Small-Group Tour
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. Also Explore: Hagia Sophia & Topkapi Palace Combo Tour
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. Also Check: Plan Your Visit to Hagia Sophia
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. Explore: Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Grand Bazaar Tour
Hagia Sophia 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. Explore: Nearby Restaurants to Hagia Sophia