- x0x AYASOFYA
By Sengul G. AYDINGUN
From the time it was built Haghia Sophia, the Church of Divine Wisdom, has
astonished and entranced all who beheld it, with its great dome
symbolising unattainable infinity. Haghia Sophia was used as a church for
916 years and as a mosque for 481, so serving as a place of worship for
nearly one and a half millennia. When it was first built it was known as
the Megale Ekklesia or Great Church. After the Turkish conquest it was
converted into a mosque, but continued to be known by the Turkish
rendering of its Greek name, Ayasofya. In 1934, at the wish of Mustafa
Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic, the Council of Ministers
turned the building into a museum.Haghia Sophia was constructed by the
Byzantine emperor Justinian between 532 and 537. It was the third church
of this name on the same site. The first was a basilica erected on the
site of a former Roman temple, and according to the historian Socrates was
dedicated on 15 February 360.
It was destroyed by fire in the year 404 in an uprising against Emperor
The second church was built by Emperor Theodosius II and dedicated on 10
October 415, only to be burnt down in the Nika Revolt on 13 January 532,
during the fifth year of the reign of Justinian I (527-565).After crushing
the revolt Justinian commanded that a new church be built on a far grander
scale than the previous two. The chronicler Procopius relates that two
architects, Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus, were appointed
for the task. One hundred master craftsmen, one thousand journeymen, and
ten thousand labourers were employed.
Justinian wanted the church to be completed in the shortest possible time,
and sent orders out to all the provinces of his realm commanding that
columns and marbles from ancient cities be sent to Istanbul.
Shiploads arrived from Syria, Egypt and Greece as well as from Asia
Minor.Construction commenced on 23 February 532 and apart from the
decoration was completed in the astonishingly short time of 5 years 10
months and 24 days.
The church was dedicated on 27 December 537 at a magnificent opening
ceremony. Justinian drove up to the church in his victory chariot, and was
welcomed in the atrium by Patriarch Menas. The two men entered the church
hand in hand. Justinian was so impressed by its splendour, that he
exclaimed, `Thanks be to God for blessing me with the good fortune of
constructing such a place of worship.' At the inauguration one thousand
bulls, six thousand sheep, six hundred stags, one thousand pigs, ten
thousand chickens and ten thousand roosters were sacrificed and alms were
distributed to the poor.Haghia Sophia is the most outstanding example of a
domed basilica. The central space has an area of seven thousand square
metres, and is flanked by two aisles, each divided from the nave by four
verd antique columns. These eight columns were brought from Ephesus, while
the eight porphyry columns beneath the semidomes were brought from Egypt.
Altogether the building contains 107 columns, whose capitals are among the
finest examples of Byzantine stone carving. These capitals bear the
monograms of the Emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora.The dome rises to
56.6 metres at its apex, and has a diameter of 32.37 metres.
The original dome collapsed in an earthquake just 22 years after the
church was completed, and was rebuilt in 562 by Isidorus the Younger,
nephew of Isidorus of Miletus. Isidorus the Younger raised the height of
the dome by 2.65 metres to lessen its outward thrust. During the Latin
occupation of Istanbul by the Fourth Crusaders between 1203 and 1261, the
church was used for Roman Catholic rites.
Emperor Alexius IV was forced to hand over many of the sacred objects
belonging to the church in repayment for debts to the Latins, and these
are now in Venice.he mosaics of Haghia Sophia are exquisite works of art.
In the semidome of the apse is a large mosaic depicting the Mother of God
with the Infant Christ, which makes abundant use of gold and silver.
The dress of Mary is worked in dark blue glass mosaic, and she sits on a
magnificent bejewelled throne reminiscent of an imperial throne. The faces
of mother and infant are entrancingly beautiful.
Another mosaic not to be missed is that above the Imperial Gate showing
Leo VI (886-912) bowing before Christ and asking his sins to be forgiven.
A mosaic on the side door of the inner narthex depicts two emperors with
Mary and the Infant Christ. One of the emperors is Constantine I, shown
presenting Mary and Christ with a model of Constantinople, which was named
after him, and the other is Justinian I, who is presenting a model of the
church that he founded. In the south gallery is the Deisis mosaic and two
others depicting Constantine IX Monomachos and the Empress Zoe (11th
century) and John Comnenus II with his wife Eirene and son Alexius (12th
century) respectively. In the north gallery is the mosaic depicting
Emperor Alexander (10th century).
Four minarets were added to the outside of the building at various times
after its conversion into a mosque. The huge buttresses against the
exterior walls were built in the 16th century by the Ottoman architect
Mimar Sinan to support the building, and have enabled it to survive to the
Additions within the church are the mihrap or prayer niche inside the
apse, the bronze lamps to either side of the niche which were brought here
from Buda, and the pulpit and imperial and muezz'sal galleries of carved
marble. The library beyond the south aisle was built by Mahmud I in 1739.
All the additions were designed with the character of the existing
building in mind, the use of marble for the Ottoman additions reflecting
the extensive use of this material in the Byzantine building.
The inscriptions in the dome and the large calligraphic panels bearing the
names of God, Muhammed and the four caliphs are the work of the celebrated
19th century calligrapher, Kazasker Mustafa Izzet Efendi.