Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, constructed 532-537 CE, continues to be revered as one of the most important structures in the world. Hagia Sophia (Greek Ἁγία Σοφία, for 'Holy Wisdom') was designed to be the major basilica of the Byzantine Empire and held the record for the largest dome in the world until the Duomo was built in Florence in the 15th century CE. Additionally, Hagia Sophia became more important with time as subsequent architects became inspired by the dome when building later churches and mosques.

Construction & Design

After the Nike Riots of 532 CE destroyed the previous basilica in Constantinople, Emperor Justinian sought to create the greatest basilica in the Roman Empire. He charged two architects, Anthemios of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus to create a structure worthy of the capital of the Roman Empire. The architects, who were primarily mathematicians, made use of new architectural concepts in order to build exactly what the emperor wanted. In order to create the largest interior space possible, they designed an enormous dome and supported it using a revolutionary construction method called pendentives. Hagia Sophia makes use of four triangular pendentives which allow for the weight of the circular dome to transition to a square supporting superstructure below without massive pillars or columns interrupting the internal space.

The enormous dome is supported using a revolutionary construction method.

The dimensions of the extant structure show Hagia Sophia's near square shape: length 269 feet (81 m), width 240 feet (73 m). The cupola of the current dome hovers 180 feet (55 m) above the mosaic floor. The structure and first dome, which partially collapsed in 557 CE, were first completed in 537 CE. The second dome, designed with structural ribs and a greater arc than the previous dome, was designed by the nephew of one of the original architects, Isidore the Younger.

Isidore the Younger was faced with fixing several issues that had caused the original dome to collapse. First, during the original construction, the bricklayers had heedlessly applied more mortar than brick. Additionally, in the rush to complete the original dome, they had not waited for a layer of mortar to set before applying the next level of bricks. This caused structural problems that were only exacerbated by a dome which was too shallow. When a dome's arc is round enough the weight and force of the structure descends down into the supporting piers. However, the original dome's arc was too shallow, thereby, pushing outward and forcing the already weakened walls to give. To fix these problems Isidore the Younger increased the height of the dome, which increased the arc and depth, and added 40 ribs to provide support. Before these improvements, however, he was forced to rebuild much of the original walls and semi-domes in order to make the new dome last longer than the first.

Descriptons of the Dome

This history of the two generations of architects and two separate domes are known through both Byzantine authors and through 20th century CE architectural surveys. The magnificence of Hagia Sophia is recorded throughout the centuries as shown in this description by a 9th century CE patriarch of Constantinople named Photios:

It is as if one were stepping into heaven itself with no one standing in the way at any point; one is illuminated and struck by the various beauties that shine forth like stars all around. Then everything else seems to be in ecstasy and the church itself seems to whirl around.

In the 20th century CE, many architectural engineers were fascinated by the scale of Hagia Sophia and wanted to know how it was designed, executed, and built. Robert Van Nice, working for Dumbarton Oaks, was the first Westerner given access to the newly secularized Hagia Sophia in the 1930s CE. Van Nice's structural analysis was subsequently published in the 1960s CE.

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The aesthetic qualities of a geometric design are what most concern the twentieth-century work on Hagia Sophia. Due to the association of beauty, harmony, and mathematics, an objective description of Hagia Sophia reveals a certain beauty concerning its design. This is true of many structures built in Ancient Rome and Late Antique Constantinople, for example. As Anthony Cutler wrote in the 1950s CE, “the essential and manifest characteristic of early Byzantine architecture, the disciplinary relationship between mathematics and structural mechanics.” For example, the design of Hagia Sophia makes use of pendentives as an aesthetic choice that creates harmony and symmetry. According to Cutler, the pendentive is a geometric solution to an engineering problem that simultaneously creates an aesthetic effect. This interplay of geometry and beauty characterizes Byzantine understanding and engineering genius. The dome's design symbolizes something immense and beautiful.

Interior Decoration

The interior of Hagia Sophia was innovative in its decoration as well. The interior is lined with enormous marble slabs which may have been chosen and designed to imitate moving water. The central dome is floated on a ring of windows and supported by two semi-domes and two arched openings. This creates an enormous uninterrupted nave. The pendentives were covered with enormous mosaics of six winged angels called hexapterygon. The two arched openings are supported by massive porphyry columns which descend all the way to the floor. Originally the nave was lined with intricate Byzantine mosaics which portrayed scenes and people from the Gospels. After the Ottoman Conquest, many of these mosaics were covered over with Islamic calligraphy and only rediscovered in the 20th century CE after the secularization of Turkey (Hagia Sophia became a museum in 1935 CE). This includes the mosaic on the main dome which was probably a Christ Pantocrator (All-Powerful) which spanned the whole ceiling and is now covered by remarkable gold calligraphy. On the floor of the nave there is the Omphalion (navel of the earth), a large circular marble slab which is where the Roman and Byzantine Emperors were coronated. One of the final additions the Ottoman Sultans made to finalize the transition from Christian basilica to Islamic mosque was the inclusion of eight massive medallions hung on columns in the nave which have Arabic calligraphy inscribed upon them with the names of Allah, the Prophet, the first four Caliphs, and the Prophet's two grandsons. The Ottomans also added a mihrab, a minbar, and four enormous minarets in order to complete the transition to a mosque.

Influence on Later Architects

The daring genius of the architects made use of pendentives and tympana on a scale not previously envisioned. Their use of innovative techniques include a brick aggregate that is lighter and more plastic than solid stone or concrete which allowed for the dome to create an internal space not surpassed in Western Europe for 1,000 years. Additionally, after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 CE, the genius of Hagia Sophia's architects continued to dominate the conquering Ottomans who made use of the designs for their mosques. The Ottomans conquered the city, but the artistic culture of the Byzantines, in a way, conquered the Ottomans. Hagia Sophia, under orders from Mehmed the Conqueror, was converted into a mosque within days of the conquest preserving the Byzantine architectural legacy in a new form and era.

The most famous Ottoman architect, Sinan, was directly influenced by Hagia Sophia and other Byzantine structures. Working in the time of Suleyman the Magnificent, Sinan designed numerous imperial mosques and other structures with the same hemispherical dome-supported pendentives upon parallel semi-domes and walls. A layout and design certainly inspired by Hagia Sophia. Hammond suggests Sinan's greatest work, the Suleymaniye Mosque completed in 1557 CE, maintains a continuity with Hagia Sophia while simultaneously synthesizing it with the then contemporary Renaissance architectural innovations occurring in Italy.

Later Ottoman mosques were equally influenced by Hagia Sophia. The Blue Mosque, for example, preserves a layout inspired by Hagia Sophia that builds upon its innovations of pendentives and semi-domes to create internal space. Additionally, Islam's use of geometric shapes and patterns, as opposed to Orthodox's use of icons, also finds continuity in Greco-Roman-Byzantine's use of geometry in sacred architecture as mentioned previously. In fact, the very same Sinan who built the Suleymaniye also worked to repair the millennium-old Hagia Sophia during the reign of Selim II.

In addition to the impact Hagia Sophia has had on Ottoman architecture, it also inspired and influenced Greek and Russian Orthodox architecture for centuries. Victoria Hammond, author of Visions of Heaven: The Dome in European Architecture, in particular, suggests that Russian Orthodox basilicas in Moscow and Kiev were directly inspired by early Muscovite contact with Constantinople in the 10th century CE.

Despite the finality of the transition from Byzantine to Ottoman with the removal of the Christian icons Hagia Sophia continued in its function as a sacred space as a mosque called Ayasofya. Even today Hagia Sophia maintains its position as a sacred space, despite its current position as a secular museum, because of what it inspires, what it symbolizes, and the effects it creates on visitors. The original architects' vision of a structure as the synthesis of religion and mathematics determines the impact it has on the viewer. And in return, it is the impact that Hagia Sophia has on the eye which determines its lasting importance and beauty. It's scale, symbolism, and transcendence of the construction material demonstrate what Justinian said when it was first completed in 537 CE, “O, Solomon, I have outdone thee!”


DESCRIPTION

The Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque / Ayasofya-i Kebir Cami-i Şerifi, with its innovative architecture, rich history, religious significance and extraordinary characteristics has been fighting against time for centuries, was the largest Eastern Roman Church in Istanbul. Constructed three times in the same location, it is the world’s oldest and fastest-completed cathedral. With its breathtaking domes that look like hanging in the air, monolithic marble columns and unparalleled mosaics, is one of the wonders of world’s architecture history. The sheer dazzling beauty of mosque with its magnificent play on space, light, and color provokes worship in the believer! Hagia Sophia pose on the ground of the first hill of Istanbul, precisely at the tip of the historic peninsula, surrounded by the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn on three sides.

Today's Hagia Sophia (Turkish:Ayasofya, Latin: Sancta Sophia, Spanish: Santa Sofia, Russian:Собор Святой Софии, literally:Holy Wisdom or Divine Wisdom) is the third building constructed in the same place with a different architectural understanding than its predecessors. Hagia Sophia considered the embodiment of Byzantine Architecture and also said changed the history of architecture. By the order of Emperor Justinianos, it was built by Anthemios (mathematician) from Tralles (today's Aydin) and Isidoros (geometrician and engineer) from Miletos (today's Balat). The construction started in 532 and was completed in a period of five years and opened for worship in 537 with great ceremony. An earthquake swarm which hit the Constantinople from May 7,558 to following the years 546 and 557 were destructive. The dome of the Hagia Sophia collapsed and thousands of houses couldn't resist magnitude of quakes.

The Hagia Sophia and Byzantine city of Constantinople sacked and looted in April 1204 by the Venetians and the Crusaders on the Fourth Crusade which regarded as shocking betrayal amongst Christians. The crusader nobleman Baldwin of Flanders was crowned as emperor in Hagia Sophia, but most Byzantines refused to recognize him, and the empire fragmented into four small independent states.

IT CONTINUED TO EXIST AS A MOSQUE DURING THE OTTOMAN PERIOD

When Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror conquered the Konstantiniyye (During the Ottoman period of ruling, following names used in Turkish for Istanbul:Konstantiniyye, Stanpolis, Dersaadet, Asitane), he converted it into his imperial mosque. Buttresses were added to the Hagia Sophia’s sides to prevent it from collapse during the reign of Murad III by the historical architect Sinan who would be inspired by the ancient edifice, and fusing its style with Islamic art and aesthetics in a series of Grand Mosques. The Hagia Sophia, whose domes and walls collapsed many times during the Eastern Roman period, never collapsed again after the renovations of Sinan the Architect despite many great earthquakes in Istanbul.

From the time of Fatih Sultan Mehmet Khan, every sultan strived to beautify the Hagia Sophia even more, and the Hagia Sophia was transformed into an entire complex with structures such as mihrab, minbar, rostrum, minarets, sultan’s office, shadirvans (fountain providing water for ritual ablutions), madrasah, library, and soup kitchen. In addition, great importance was attached to the interior decorations of the Hagia Sophia Mosque during the Ottoman period. Hagia Sophia was adorned with the most elegant examples of Turkish arts such as calligraphy and tile art and the temple gained new aesthetic values. Thus, Istanbul's Hagia Sophia was not only converted into a mosque but also this common heritage of humanity was preserved and improved. It continued its existence with the addition of Ottoman architectural elements, however after 4 years of closure to the public Hagia Sophia Mosque declared as a museum with the Council of Ministers Decision dated 24.11.1934 and served as a “Memorial Museum” held by General Directorate of Cultural Heritage and Museums Ministry. In 1985 the Hagia Sophia nominated as a section of a UNESCO World Heritage site called the Historic Areas of Istanbul, which includes Istanbul’s other major historic buildings and monuments.

On July 10/2020, a Turkish top court reversed this 1934 Cabinet decree which turned Hagia Sophia Mosque into a museum, assist for its use again as a mosque after 86-year of gap. Judges decided that as the Hagia Sophia was owned by the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Khan Foundation / Waqf, the government did not have the right to change its status. In Fatih Sultan Mehmed's waqfiyya (endowment document / foundation’s charter) which written on a 66-meter length of well preserved gazelle skin says: “All the things I have explained and designated here have been set down in written form in the foundation charter in the manner appointed the conditions may not be altered the laws may not be amended they may not be diverted from their original purpose the appointed rules and principles may not be diminished interference of any sort in the foundation is interdicted… May the curse of Allah, the angels and all human beings be upon anyone who changes even one of the conditions governing this foundation.” Sultan Fatih refers to Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque as “kenise-i nefise-i münakkase“ in his wagfiyya which translated from Ottoman Turkish as “[the] exquisitely ornamented church.“

The opening ceremony for worship in Hagia Sophia Mosque held on 24 July 2020, with the attendance of President of the Republic of Turkey Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Before the prayers, President Erdoğan recited from the Qur'an inside the reverted mosque, choosing verses from both the Surah Al-Fatihah and the Surah Al-Baqarah. Some 350,000 people participated in traditional Friday prayers at Istanbul's historic Hagia Sophia Mosque. Administrative duties for the mosque split between Turkey’s Religious Affairs Directorate, or Diyanet, and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Diyanet administrate religious activities, while the latter continue to administer conservation and restoration projects, and the management of relics contained within the mosque. Addressing the nation regarding Hagia Sophia Mosque’s re-opening for worship, President Erdogan said: “Hagia Sophia’s doors will be, as is the case with all our mosques, wide open to all, whether they be foreign or local, Muslim or non-Muslim. With its new status, Hagia Sophia, the shared heritage of humanity, will continue to embrace all in a much more sincere and original way.”

Authorities announced that the features of Hagia Sophia will continue to be preserved and protected, and will remain open to the public in the same manner the Blue Mosque is open to visitors and tourists of all denominations and faiths. Apart from functioning as a working mosque, the Hagia Sophia is also among Turkey's top tourism destinations for domestic and foreign visitors alike.

MOSAICS, SERMON CHAIRS: WELL WORTH SEEING!

Hagia Sophia fascinates people by not only with its awe-inspiring architectural design, but also by its gold-plated, silver-plated, glass, terracotta and colored stone mosaics, and the original ceiling mosaics of the 6th century with their floral and geometric motifs. The mosaics with figures following the icon ban in the 8th century especially Mother Mary depicted with child Jesus in her arms, the Archangel Gabriel and the Archangel Michael and Deisis stage mosaics must be seen. Some of the most famous mosaics, including a Deisis panel and imperial portraits, are found in the southwest gallery, which was used for religious meetings and ceremonies. Sultan Abdulmecid's Mosaic tughra was built between 1847 and 1849 during the restoration by the Fossati brothers. Known for its Imperial Gate, Beautiful Gate (Splendid Door) and Marble Gate, Hagia Sophia has 104 columns, some of which are brought from ancient cities. The "Omphalion” section where the emperors were crowned stands out with marble workmanship like these pillars.

Eight large round plates that were added during the Ottoman period are the work of famous calligrapher Kadıasker Mustafa Izzet during the reign of Sultan Abdulmecid. Two solid marble cubes in the side aisles, which can receive an average of 1250 liters of liquid, were brought from the ancient city of Bergama during the reign of Sultan Murad III.

The Hagia Sophia has four minarets at its corners that were added at different times. The brick minaret at the southern corner is attributed to Mehmed II, and a second stone minaret was added to the north by Mimar Sinan during his restoration. The remaining two minarets are identical and date from the Murad III period.

NON-MUSLIM TOURIST VISITING ETIQUETTE FOR HAGIA SOPHIA

All visitors, Muslims and non-Muslims are allowed to enter Hagia Sophia Mosque. Visitors should remove their shoes before stepping onto the mosque's carpets. Avoid visiting Hagia Sophia Mosque at prayer times (five times a day), especially noon praying on Fridays. Women should wear a head covering when entering to the Hagia Sophia. Headscarves are available at the Hagia Sophia Mosque entrance without a fee. Photography is allowed, however do not take pictures of people who are in the mosque to pray. Stay silent during your visit, dont run and stand in front of anyone praying. There is no entrance fee to visit Hagia Sophia Mosque, but donations are welcome.

WHILE YOU ARE HERE

The Hagia Sophia Mosque is famous for its exterior as well as its interior. The mausoleums of Ottoman Sultans outside the building are among the first to visit. There are tombs of princes and mausoleums of Sultan Selim II, Sultan Murad III, Sultan Mehmed III, Sultan Mustafa I, and Sultan Ibrahim whose reigns followed one another. Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque more than just a monument to the grandeur of human achievement and artistic expression. It also serves as the final resting place for five sultans and their families, giving it a venerated historical status befitting its age and history. The four minarets of Hagia Sophia, known to be built by Mimar Sinan, the fountain of Sibyan (elementary) school, the clock room, the fountains, buttresses, the treasury building and the soup kitchen are also increasing the magnificence of the structure.


Hagia Sophia - History

• Sophia means Wisdom in Greek Language. When we translate the full name of Hagia Sophia to English it is Shrine of The Holy of God.

• Hagia Sophia was dedicated to Logos who was the second person in the Holy Trinity, in December 25th.

• There were two more Churches accepted as Church of Holy Wisdom, but only Hagia Sophia was not destroyed.

• The Alter, the bells, sacrificial vessels and iconostasis were all removed when the church was converted into a mosque.

• When Hagia Sophia was a church 50 foot silver iconostasis was decorating inside, now it is on display in the museum.

• Only Patheon in Rome has slightly bigger dome than the dome of Hagia Sophia in the world.

• Hagia Sophia was converted in to a museum in 1935 by the first President of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

• Eastern Orthodox Church focused on Hagia Sophia for 1000 years as an important place.

• The Blue Mosque and Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul were designed with an inspiration of Hagia Sophia.

• Hagia Sophia as a museum has both Christian and Islamic influences and features today.

• Hagia Sophia has 40 windows in the area where worshipers sit and it’s known as famous reflecting mystical light.

• When the dome of Hagia Sophia was placed, walls began to lean outward because of the weight. Then walls to support to dome were built.

• A mathematician, a Scientist and a physicist designed the Hagia Sophia.

• Many Christian mosaics and frescoes were plastered over when Hagia Sophia converted in to a mosque by Sultan Mehmed II.

• Hagia Sophia is visible from far miles distances because of its grandness.

• The stone cannonballs, which were used by Mehmet the Conqueror, are on display near the entrance of Hagia Sophia.

• Hagia Sophia is one of the most important buildings in Istanbul and needs some restorations and repairs.

• Hagia Sophia was constructed over fault line and earthquake can tear the structure down. It must be strengthened with some works.

• Some repairs in Hagia Sophia are going on today but definitely needs more financing.


History

Regularly alluded to as the eighth miracle of the World, the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish) in Sultanahmet is effectively one of Istanbul’s most amazing sights. It additionally should have one of the most fierce chronicles of any historical center on the planet. To discover why it’s ideal to think back through its past manifestations:

The Hagia Sophia Church (AD360 – )

The structure that stands today was the third church to be based on this site. The initial two (worked in AD 360 and Ad 415 separately) were both leveled to the ground in pained Byzantine occasions. Sovereign Justinian charged the present structure in the 6th century as a Greek Orthodox Church that would exceed the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. It took only five years and the labor of almost 11,000 individuals to raise the structure that was the biggest Christian church on the planet for about a thousand years.

In 1204, the Crusaders dislodged the Patriarch of Constantinople with a Latin religious administrator, which is the reason a lot of its unique relics would now be able to be found in St. Imprint’s Basilica in Venice. You can visit Hagia Sophia, either with our private One Day in Istanbul or Istanbul Layover visit.

The Hagia Sophia Mosque (1453 – )

Following the catch of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, and the resulting plundering that resulted, Mehmet the Conqueror proclaimed the Hagia Sophia a mosque, and said his supplications there the exceptionally next Friday. As a mosque, it was considered one of the holiest Islamic sanctuaries of the world. It likewise filled in as Istanbul’s key mosque for almost 500 years and was utilized as a model for some, others including the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, the Suleymaniye Mosque, and the Rustem Pasha Mosque.

The Hagia Sophia Museum (1935 – )

Under the request for Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the Council of Ministers, the Hagia Sophia Turkey opened as a historical center in 1935. Today, it is visited by about 10,000 individuals every day and the Turkish Ministry of Tourism proclaimed that it got more than 3 million guests in 2013. The Hagia Sophia ticket cost is $10, however, be cautioned except if you purchase your ticket ahead of time or go with a visit direct, there are frequently long lines. Its opening times are Monday – Sunday from 9 am – 7 pm.


On this day in 532: Emperor Justinian orders the rebuilding of Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia, for almost 1,000 years was the largest Greek Orthodox Christian church in the world. Unfortunately nothing remains of the original Hagia Sophia, which was built in the fourth century by Constantine the Great.

Constantine was the first Christian emperor and the founder of the city of Constantinople, which he called “the New Rome.”

Hagia Sophia was one of several great churches he built in important cities throughout his empire.

Following the destruction of Constantine’s church, a second was built by his son Constantius and the emperor Theodosius the Great.

This second church was burned down during the Nika riots of 532, though fragments of it have been excavated and can be seen today.

Hagia Sophia was rebuilt in her present form between 532 and 537 under the personal supervision and order of Emperor Justinian I.

This order was given on February 23, 532.

It is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture, rich with mosaics and marble pillars and coverings. After completion, Justinian is said to have exclaimed, Νενίκηκά σε Σολομών (“Solomon, I have outdone thee!”).

The architects of the church were Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, who were professors of geometry at the University of Constantinople.

Their work was a technical triumph, even though the structure was severely damaged several times by earthquakes.

The original dome collapsed after an earthquake in 558 and its replacement fell in 563. Steps were taken to better secure the dome, but there were additional partial collapses in 989 and 1346.

Justinian’s basilica was both the culminating architectural achievement of Late Antiquity and the first masterpiece of Byzantine architecture.

Its influence, both architecturally and liturgically, was widespread and enduring in the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Muslim worlds alike.

For over 900 years Hagia Sophia was the seat of the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople and a principal setting for church councils and imperial ceremonies.

In 1204 the cathedral was ruthlessly attacked, desecrated and plundered by the Crusaders, who also ousted the Patriarch of Constantinople and replaced him with a Latin bishop.

This event cemented the division of the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches that had begun with the Great Schism of 1054.

It also means that most of Hagia Sophia’s riches can be seen today not in Istanbul, but in the treasury of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice

Despite this violent setback, Hagia Sophia remained a functioning church until May 29, 1453, when Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror entered triumphantly into the city of Constantinople.

He was amazed at the beauty of Hagia Sophia and immediately converted it into his imperial mosque.

Hagia Sophia served as the principal mosque of Istanbul for almost 500 years. No major structural changes were made at first.

At some early point, all the faces depicted in the church’s mosaics were covered in plaster due to the Islamic prohibition of figurative imagery.

Various additions were made over the centuries by successive sultans.

Sultan Mehmed II built a madrasa (religious school) near the mosque and organised a waqf for its expenses.

Extensive restorations were conducted by Mimar Sinan during the rule of Selim II, including the original sultan’s loge and another minaret.

Mimar Sinan built the mausoleum of Selim II to the southeast of the mosque in 1577 and the mausoleums of Murad III and Mehmed III were built next to it in the 1600s.

Mahmud I ordered a restoration of the mosque in 1739 and added an ablution fountain, Koranic school, soup kitchen and library, making the mosque the centre of a social complex.

The most famous restoration of the Hagia Sophia was completed between 1847-49 by Abdülmecid II, who invited Swiss architects Gaspare and Guiseppe Fossati to renovate the mosque.

The brothers consolidated the dome and vaults, straightened columns and revised the decoration of the exterior and the interior.

The discovery of the figural mosaics after the secularisation of Hagia Sophia was guided by the descriptions of the Fossati brothers, who had uncovered them a century earlier for cleaning and recording.

The Fossatis also added the calligraphic roundels that remain today.

They were commissioned to calligrapher Kazasker Izzet Efendi and replaced older panels hanging on the piers.

In 1934, under Turkish president Kemal Atatürk, Hagia Sofia was secularised and turned into the Ayasofya Museum.

The prayer rugs were removed, revealing the marble beneath, but the mosaics remained largely plastered over and the building was allowed to decay for some time.

Some of the calligraphic panels were moved to other mosques, but eight roundels were left and can still be seen today.

A 1993 UNESCO mission to Turkey noted falling plaster, dirty marble facings, broken windows, decorative paintings damaged by moisture, and ill-maintained lead roofing. Cleaning, roofing and restoration have since been undertaken.

Greece and the world have strongly denounced the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

Despite international condemnation, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan led the first Muslim prayer in Hagia Sophia in 86 years on Friday, 24 July 202O.

Recognised as a ‘day of mourning’, the Greek Foreign Affairs Ministry called the conversion “a blow to humanity’s cultural heritage.”


Berkley Center

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently issued a decree converting the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, ending its 80-year status as a museum. The recent move is part of a longer history of the Hagia Sophia as a religiously contested space. It was converted from a church to a mosque in 1453, when Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople from the Byzantine Empire. The Hagia Sophia was then converted to a museum in 1934 by a decree of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the constitutionally secular Republic of Turkey. Now, the Hagia Sophia enters a new phase of its history and will soon host religious services in addition to welcoming visitors, taking on a status similar to the Notre Dame Cathedral or Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris. Questions as to how the Hagia Sophia relates to religious identity, domestic and foreign politics, and Turkish secularism remain central in light of its conversion from museum to mosque.

The implications of transitioning the site into a mosque are far reaching. Already, the move has been met with disapproval from a wide coalition of international figures, from Pope Francis and Orthodox leaders to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. President Erdoğan, however, has defended the move as being within the sovereign rights of Turkey. More broadly, the Hagia Sophia controversy is part and parcel of the changing relationship between religion and nationalism in Turkey under the ruling Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi). Conversion of the site, along with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, invites further reflection on religion and secularism, foreign policy, and domestic politics in Turkey.

This week the Berkley Forum asks: How does the Hagia Sophia controversy map onto broader trends in Turkish domestic politics and foreign policy behavior, including soft power projection? To whom is President Erdoğan appealing (both in Turkey and abroad) by converting the site into a mosque? Why did Erdoğan reintroduce the mosque-museum issue at this moment in time? What are the ethical, historical, and religious challenges of converting the Hagia Sophia—a site important in both Islam and Orthodox Christianity—into a mosque? What role might ecumenical and interfaith dialogue play in the aftermath of the decision?


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To the extent that Turkey wishes to challenge Saudi Arabia for leadership in the Sunni world, or to limit the influence of Iran in the Islamic world as a whole, the Hagia Sophia decision is a recognition that geopolitical Islamic leadership has to be explicitly Islamic. That has been true in the region for decades and in Turkey under Erdogan for many years. Converting the Hagia Sophia is simply a confirmation of shifts that took place some time ago.

How is this to be evaluated in the West? Certain foreign policy analysts would prefer a more secular Turkey to a more religious one. But would a more secular Turkey be a stronger rival to Saudi Arabia or Iran? Might a more religious Turkey be?

At the very least, Erdogan thinks that a more robust Muslim identity is good for his hold on power. Is it also possible that it makes Turkey a more effective regional counterweight to the other Islamic powers?


TURKEY – A UNIQUE AND VALUABLE CHRISTIAN HERITAGE

Built in the 6 th century under the direction of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. as a cathedral, the Hagia Sophia was the epitome of Byzantian architecture. For a thousand years, it served as the Cathedral of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and was used for imperial coronation ceremonies. In 1204, the Hagia Sophia was looted by the Venetians and crusaders during the fourth crusade when the Byzantine Empire temporarily lost the city. From 1204 – 1261, the Hagia Sophia was used as a Roman Catholic Cathedral, and was then handed over to the Greek Patriarchate when Constantinople was reconquered by the Byzantine Empire.

In 1453, when the city was captured by the Ottoman Empire, the Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque, and four minarets were added to the structure. In 1935, as a building highly regarded as a place of worship for Orthodox Christians and Muslims, Hagia Sophia was transformed into a cultural heritage treasure, where mosque and church elements were exhibited together.

In 1935, the Hagia Sophia was established as a museum under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the newly established secular republic of Turkey. This decree was ruled unlawful in July 2020, and Turkey’s move to reclassify the Hagia Sophia as a mosque has been controversial, drawing criticism from UNESCO, the World Council of Churches, and international leaders. As a museum, the Hagia Sophia acted as a bridge, crossing religious and cultural divides, unifying people in a mutual appreciation of art, history, and architecture.

Reflecting on Hagia Sophia’s remarkable history in a news article in response to recent events, SAT-7 TÜRK states that “Decisions made as a result of certain political and religious ideologies dating back centuries should not determine the fate of a cultural heritage… The Hagia Sophia is too great to be determined by political or ideological factors, and most importantly, it is unifying as the common heritage of humanity.”[1]

In its role as a cultural channel in Turkey, SAT-7 TÜRK explores Turkey’s Christian heritage, educating the public about Christian locations, monuments, and archaeological sites right on their doorstep. Last year, the channel broadcast One Bike Seven Churches, a documentary combining a passion for cycling and scripture, in which the presenter visited the seven ancient churches mentioned in the book of Revelation. Ethnic Christian minorities who have lived in Turkey for centuries also have a platform on the channel, sharing their unique stories, histories, and cuisine on One Kitchen One Story.

Did you know?

  • The Ark came to rest on Mt Ararat in Eastern Turkey.
  • All seven ancient churches mentioned in the book of Revelation are in West Turkey.
  • Followers of Christ were first called Christians in Turkey.

Through informative documentaries and programs about Christian ethnic minorities and the Christian biblical history in Turkey, SAT-7 TÜRK ensures that Turkey’s rich and vibrant Christian history is not forgotten.


Hagia Sophia’s history of conflict and faith

Visitors walk inside the Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia, in the historic Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, Friday, Oct. 15, 2010. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to join hundreds of worshipers Friday, July 24, 2020, for the first Muslim prayers at the Hagia Sophia in 86 years, weeks after a controversial high court ruling paved the way for the landmark monument to be turned back into a mosque. (Credit: Emrah Gurel/AP.)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to join hundreds of worshippers Friday for the first Muslim prayers at the Hagia Sophia in 86 years, after a controversial high court ruling paved the way for the landmark monument to be turned back into a mosque.

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to join hundreds of worshippers Friday for the first Muslim prayers at the Hagia Sophia in 86 years, after a controversial high court ruling paved the way for the landmark monument to be turned back into a mosque.

A government decree reopened the “jewel” of the Byzantine Empire for Muslim worship and abolished its status as a museum. The conversion of what was once the most important church of Christendom has led to an international outcry.

The 6th century monument, which remains the main feature of the Istanbul skyline, has a history rich with symbolism.

The Byzantine era

Hagia Sophia, or the Church of Holy Wisdom, was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I on the site of an destroyed basilica of the same name. Completed in 537, it was among the world’s largest domed structures and would serve as the foremost Orthodox Christian church for some 900 years. Imperial ceremonies, including the crowning of emperors, were held there. The multicolored mosaics depicting the Virgin Mary, the baby Jesus, angels and other Christian symbols along with emperors and their families that centuries of rulers installed added to its reputation as an architectural gem.

The Ottoman conquest

Ottoman sultan Mehmet the Conqueror defeated the Byzantine Empire and captured Istanbul, then known as Constantinople, in 1453. The 21-year-old immediately turned the majestic Hagia Sophia into a mosque as an emblem of Muslim triumph over the city. The structure served as an imperial mosque and subsequent sultans added minarets, a school, library and a fountain, completing its transformation into a mosque complex. The mosaics were eventually plastered over in line with iconoclasm traditions that bar the depiction of figures.

A museum for a secular Turkey

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the war hero who founded the Turkish Republic from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, had Hagia Sophia made into a museum in 1934 as part of his reforms to build a secular country. Its mosaics were brought back into the open, and the structure served for years as a symbol of Istanbul’s rich multi-faith and multicultural past.

Included on the list of World Heritage sites maintained by the U.N. cultural body UNESCO, it became one of Turkey’s most-visited landmarks, drawing millions of tourists every year. However, Atakurk’s decision to cease Hagia Sophia’s use as a mosque was met with dismay by religious and nationalist groups. They had long called for the iconic building to be “freed from its chains” and converted back into a Muslim place of worship.

Restoration as a mosque

Erdogan signed a July 10 decree fulfilling their wishes soon after Turkey’s highest administrative court ruled that Istanbul’s conqueror had bequeathed the Hagia Sophia as a mosque and that the 1934 museum conversion was illegal. His government has vowed to protect the Hagia Sophia’s Christian artifacts and to keep the structure open to tourists outside of prayer hours.

The ticket kiosk outside has been removed and the interior marble floors have been covered in a turquoise-colored carpet chosen by the president himself in preparation for the first Friday prayers. Some 500 invited participants will be required to maintain social distance due to the coronavirus outbreak. The mosaics will be covered up with curtains during the prayers, officials have said.

Fulfilling an Islamist dream

For Erdogan, a pious Muslim whose ruling party has roots in Turkey’s Islamic movement, performing Friday prayers at Hagia Sophia is a dream from his youth coming true. He has described Ataturk’s decision to turn it into a museum as a “mistake” that is now being rectified.

Critics see the president’s decision as the latest move by Erdogan to distract attention from economic woes the coronavirus has only exacerbated and to shore up his conservative-religious support base. Opening up Hagia Sophia to Muslim prayers is also seen as a part of Erdogan’s efforts to deepen Turkey’s Muslim identity and to roll back his predecessor’s secular legacy.


AP Explains: Hagia Sophia's history of conflict and faith

ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to join hundreds of worshippers Friday for the first Muslim prayers at the Hagia Sophia in 86 years, after a controversial high court ruling paved the way for the landmark monument to be turned back into a mosque.

A government decree reopened the “jewel” of the Byzantine Empire for Muslim worship and abolished its status as a museum. The conversion of what was once the most important church of Christendom has led to an international outcry.

The 6th century monument, which remains the main feature of the Istanbul skyline, has a history rich with symbolism.

Hagia Sophia, or the Church of Holy Wisdom, was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I on the site of an destroyed basilica of the same name. Completed in 537, it was among the world’s largest domed structures and would serve as the foremost Orthodox Christian church for some 900 years. Imperial ceremonies, including the crowning of emperors, were held there. The multicolored mosaics depicting the Virgin Mary, the baby Jesus, angels and other Christian symbols along with emperors and their families that centuries of rulers installed added to its reputation as an architectural gem.

Ottoman sultan Mehmet the Conqueror defeated the Byzantine Empire and captured Istanbul, then known as Constantinople, in 1453. The 21-year-old immediately turned the majestic Hagia Sophia into a mosque as an emblem of Muslim triumph over the city. The structure served as an imperial mosque and subsequent sultans added minarets, a school, library and a fountain, completing its transformation into a mosque complex. The mosaics were eventually plastered over in line with iconoclasm traditions that bar the depiction of figures.

A MUSEUM FOR A SECULAR TURKEY

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the war hero who founded the Turkish Republic from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, had Hagia Sophia made into a museum in 1934 as part of his reforms to build a secular country. Its mosaics were brought back into the open, and the structure served for years as a symbol of Istanbul's rich multi-faith and multicultural past.

Included on the list of World Heritage sites maintained by the U.N. cultural body UNESCO, it became one of Turkey’s most-visited landmarks, drawing millions of tourists every year. However, Atakurk's decision to cease Hagia Sophia's use as a mosque was met with dismay by religious and nationalist groups. They had long called for the iconic building to be “freed from its chains” and converted back into a Muslim place of worship.

Erdogan signed a July 10 decree fulfilling their wishes soon after Turkey's highest administrative court ruled that Istanbul's conqueror had bequeathed the Hagia Sophia as a mosque and that the 1934 museum conversion was illegal. His government has vowed to protect the Hagia Sophia’s Christian artifacts and to keep the structure open to tourists outside of prayer hours.

The ticket kiosk outside has been removed and the interior marble floors have been covered in a turquoise-colored carpet chosen by the president himself in preparation for the first Friday prayers. Some 500 invited participants will be required to maintain social distance due to the coronavirus outbreak. The mosaics will be covered up with curtains during the prayers, officials have said.

FULFILLING AN ISLAMIST DREAM

For Erdogan, a pious Muslim whose ruling party has roots in Turkey’s Islamic movement, performing Friday prayers at Hagia Sophia is a dream from his youth coming true. He has described Ataturk’s decision to turn it into a museum as a “mistake” that is now being rectified.

Critics see the president's decision as the latest move by Erdogan to distract attention from economic woes the coronavirus has only exacerbated and to shore up his conservative-religious support base. Opening up Hagia Sophia to Muslim prayers is also seen as a part of Erdogan’s efforts to deepen Turkey’s Muslim identity and to roll back his predecessor's secular legacy.


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