The great legacy of Hagia Sophia


Hagia Sophia is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. Its interior is decorated with mosaics and marble pillars and coverings of great artistic value. Hagia Sophia was built by two architects, Isidorus of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, after it burned down for the second time in 532 C.E. Employed by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, the two architects, highly skilled in mechanics and mathematics, oversaw the construction of the church in just six years. Hagia Sophia’s vast 105-foot dome is pierced with windows, giving the impression that it floats on air. After the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the church was repurposed as a mosque, minarets and a mihrab was added, and giant disks bearing Islamic calligraphy were installed on the building’s walls.


 Hagia Sophia a symbol of authority
Because it was turned from an orthodox church into a mosque, it survived and it becomes a symbol of authority because if this was the symbol of the Byzantine Empires religious authority and the emperor's authority, this then by converting it having it become a mosque is a symbol of the sultan's power in the city and through the empire, and it has a huge symbolic quality of sovereignty.
The mosaics were covered up not because the Muslims don't recognize Christ as at least a prophet but because of the prohibition of figural imagery especially within a religious space, certainly that and also Christ when he is depicted he's not depicted as Christ, he's Jesus, and he's a prophet, he doesn't appear with Mary, he doesn't appear as Christ Pantocrator which is this very typical image in Eastern Orthodox churches. You can't have him being shown in those ways because those are very Christian depictions of Jesus.
While we may not have figural images, we certainly have lots of symbols and probably the most obvious thing when you come in are the enormous bits of Arabic calligraphy. Calligraphy is perhaps the most important Islamic art. Arabic in the word is critical to the foundation of Islam because the belief is that Mohammed recited the words of God as told to him directly. Arabic is very important, a lot of these round drills which were later additions they're in Arabic so a lot of the community couldn't read them even though they were Muslim this still would have been a foreign language, because they spoke Turkish.

The floating golden dome

We know that the faithful attributed the structural success of Hagia Sophia to divine intervention. Nothing is more illustrative of the attitude than descriptions of the dome of Hagia Sophia. Procopius, biographer of the Emperor Justinian and author of a book on the buildings of Justinian is the first to assert that the dome hovered over the building by divine intervention.
The windows at the bottom of the dome are closely spaced, visually asserting that the base of the dome is insubstantial and hardly touching the building itself, it makes the dome suspended in the air, the building planners did more than squeeze the windows together, they also lined the jambs or sides of the windows with gold mosaic. As light hits the gold it bounces around the openings and eats away at the structure and makes room for the imagination to see a floating dome.


 Minarets

Probably the most obvious addition is the incredible minarets outside, these four very tall, thin pencil minarets and domes are what everyone comes to associate with Ottoman architecture.
They're the quintessential features of mosque architecture but also of the Ottoman urban landscape. By pencil minaret, you're distinguishing them from the thicker minarets that you see maybe in Egypt.
The purpose of the minaret was as a high place to call the faithful to prayer, in some sense is it's very functional, the muezzin goes up and he calls everyone to prayer. It's a much better position for doing that than on the ground, your voice can travel much further.
They also provide you with a great opportunity to define your skyline by building in a distinctive style it asserts who you are and what your identity is but it also helps all of us today who are looking at these buildings, pencil minarets must be Ottomans.
It's a really clear distinguishing feature because you don't get them in Central Asia, you don't get them in Iran, you really only get them where the Ottoman Empire had a presence.
There was two minarets earlier, one built by Mehmed II and then one by Sinan, the famous architect who built many of the great monuments in Istanbul in the Ottoman Empire. Then we have two more that were added by Murad III, a sultan from the late 16th century.


Damage and repairs

The building was severely damaged by three quakes during its early history. Extensive repairs were required. Despite the repairs, one assumes that the city saw the survival of the church, amid city rubble, as yet another indication of divine guardianship of the church.
Extensive repair and restoration are ongoing in the modern period, we likely pride ourselves on the ability of modern engineering to compensate for daring 6th Century building technique. Both ages have their belief systems and we are understandably certain of the rightness of our modern approach to the care of the great monument. But we must also know that we would be lesser if we did not contemplate with some admiration the structural belief system of the Byzantine Age.





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