Byzantine Architecture & Spiritual Glory of Hagia Sophia

The vast, echoing interior of Hagia Sophia

For 900 years, this mountainous hulk of a building was a Christian cathedral, then for 500 years a Muslim mosque. It has not only felt the tread of mighty emperors and sultans, but also suffered the cruel predations of invading armies. Indeed, for a place of worship, Hagia Sophia (“Holy Wisdom”) bears more than its fair share of scars. Many of its once-glorious Byzantine mosaics have been either damaged or destroyed, while its sumptuous Islamic carpets have been rolled up and removed, following the building’s conversion into a museum in 1935.

Today the two religions co-exist inside, locked in a state of suspended disharmony. Gigantic wooden discs, bearing the names of Allah and his prophet Muhammad, stare across at restored gold images of Christ Pantocrator (“All Powerful”). One faith (Islam) forbids the representation of the human or divine form, the other (Christianity) exults in it, and here the contradiction finds dramatic expression.

Hagia Sophia, Ayasofya Museum, Istanbul But while the works of art on the walls may give off conflicting messages, the building itself communicates an aura of might, with its sturdy stone columns, echoing marble floors and great slabs of stone from across the Mediterranean world (Egyptian porphyry, black stone from the Bosphorus, yellow from Syria). The great central dome soars 180 feet above the floor, pierced by 40 windows, through which stream shafts of light, giving the effect that it is floating, weightless, suspended by some heavenly force. The Hagia Sophia was rebuilt at the orders of Emperor Justinian in 537 CE. Then, for 900 years, Hagia Sophia had been the center of Orthodox Christianity until 1453 when the city was concurred by Ottomans. 500 years following the conquest of Muslims, it became a jewel for the Muslim world and as the grand mosque of the sultans.

It took 10,000 laborers to build this immense structure, and by the time it was officially consecrated in 537 CE, it was already the third Christian cathedral to have been built on this site (the first was in 360 CE). Since then Hagia Sophia has endured the very worst that humankind (wars and looting) and nature (fires and earthquakes) can visit upon it. And it is still standing.

Hagia Sophia was chosen a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1985. Hagia Sophia has became one of the most important monuments on the planet with its architecture and historical richness.

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