Who Built Hagia Sophia: Hagia Sophia History A Journey Through Time

With its rich cultural heritage, Istanbul has delighted countless explorers, offering various tourist attractions. 

Hagia Sophia is one of the most famous and visited, a magnificent edifice that has endured since 537. 

Originally an Orthodox Church, it later transformed into a Museum and currently serves as a Mosque. 

For history and culture enthusiasts, the Hagia Sophia is a must-visit destination.

About Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia, Holy Wisdom, or Ayasofya, is an extraordinary example of Byzantine architecture and art. 

Constructed in 360 A.D., it was the main church of the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople (now Istanbul). 

During that time, Istanbul’s name was Constantinople, named after Constantine I, the father of Constantius, the first ruler of the Byzantine Empire.

Following the Ottoman Empire’s capture of the city in 1453, it became a mosque.

Having transitioned to being a Church, Museum, and now a Mosque, this monument has witnessed the ebb and flow of numerous dynasties. 

The breathtaking panoramic view of Istanbul from its pinnacle is a sight not to be missed. 
As a former Church and now a Mosque, it symbolizes the harmonious coexistence of two religions.

It represents the fusion of Eastern and Western cultures in Istanbul.

Hagia Sophia History

Initially named Megale Ekklesia (Great Church), Hagia Sophia came into use around 430. 

Emperor Constantius’ first church faced destruction at the hands of rioters in 404 A.D.

The cause of the riots was the political conflict within the family of Emperor Arkadios, who had a tumultuous reign from 395 to 408 A.D.

Emperor Theodosius II, the successor of Arkadios, reconstructed the Hagia Sophia, completing the new structure in 415.

The second Church burned down during the Nika revolt in 532, resulting in widespread destruction and loss of life in the city.

Emperor Justinian, unable to repair the damage caused by the fire, ordered the demolition of the Hagia Sophia in 532.

He commissioned renowned architects Isidoros and Anthemios to construct a new basilica. 

The inauguration of the new building occurred on December 27, 537, and it stands today.

On December 27, 537, the new Hagia Sophia hosted its first religious services.

The Conversion to a Mosque

Under the rule of Sultan Mehmed II, the Hagia Sophia turned into a magnificent mosque in 1453, marking a significant historical shift.

During the building’s transformation, the Ottomans covered the walls depicting original Orthodox-themed mosaics with Islamic calligraphy.

Following the customary practice in mosques, a mihrab or nave was placed on the wall.

It marked the direction towards Mecca, a sacred city in Islam. 

The Ottoman Emperor Kanuni Sultan Süleyman (1520 to 1566) installed two bronze lamps on each side of the mihrab.

And Sultan Murad III (1574 to 1595) added two marble cubes from the ancient Turkish city of Bergama, dating back to 4 B.C.

During the reign of Sultan Abdulmecid, from 1847 to 1849, the Fossati brothers renovated the Hagia Sophia. 

They made significant changes, such as removing the Hunkar Mahfili, a particular area used by emperors for prayer, and replacing it with a new one close to the mihrab.

The Transformation into a Museum

In 1935, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk converted Hagia Sophia into a museum.

Large-scale renovations replaced floor carpets, added new design elements and restored mosaics.

They removed the plaster covering the Christian mosaics and restored the original artwork to its former glory.

In July 2020, the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made a decree to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque once again.

Conservationists and historians have always learned from the mosaics of the Hagia Sophia to understand its fascinating history better.

In 1985, UNESCO designated the Hagia Sophia as part of the Historic Areas of Istanbul a World Heritage Site.

Significance of Hagia Sophia and its Status Today

Significance of Hagia Sophia and its Status Today
Image: Npr.org

Even today, Hagia Sophia plays a controversial and significant role in religion and politics- some 100 years after the Ottoman Empire fell. 

From 1935, nine years after the establishment of the Republic of Turkey by Ataturk, until 2020, the government operated the Hagia Sophia as a museum

However, in 2013, certain Islamic religious leaders in the country began pushing for its conversion back into a mosque. 

Finally, in July 2020, the Turkish Council of State and President Erdoğan officially reclassified it as a mosque.

Hagia Sophia delights the eye as a symbol of two dominant religions and a marvel of Byzantine architecture. 

It is a powerful reminder of the harmonious coexistence of different faiths throughout history, influenced by changing power dynamics in Turkey and cultural exchanges between the East and West.

Hagia Sophia’s Interior

The third and final Hagia Sophia has been a remarkable structure since its opening. 

It blended the traditional design segments of an Orthodox basilica with a large, semi-domed altar and a domed roof with two narthexes (or “porches”).

The impressive dome dominates the interior of Hagia Sophia.

It measures a remarkable 31 meters in diameter and reaches a towering height of 56 meters.

The mosaics of six-winged angels called hexapterygon covered the dome’s supporting arches.

Emperor Justinian decreed all provinces under his rule to send architectural pieces to construct a grand basilica representing the Byzantine Empire.

Workers carefully designed and installed these slabs using marble from Anatolia (present-day Turkey), Syria, and bricks from North Africa that showcase vast marble slabs that mimic the appearance of flowing water. 

The interior also features several other notable elements, such as the intricate Christian mosaics covered up when they converted the building into a mosque.

The mosaics depict various biblical scenes and figures intended as visual aids for illiterate people.

Unknown Hagia Sophia Facts

  • The Hagia Sophia earned the name Magna Ecclesia because of its impressive size.
  • Bishop Eudoxius of Antioch consecrated the church in 360 C.E. during the reign of Constantius II.
  • Despite facing the collapse of its original dome due to an earthquake, the Hagia Sophia was rebuilt to even greater heights, showcasing its resilience and architectural brilliance.

    Hagia Sophia’s dome is not perfectly round but slightly oval. It measures 31 meters from East to West and 32.5 meters from North to South. 
  • It stands at a height of 56.22 meters and features a calligraphic inscription of the 35th verse of Surah an-Nur at its center.
  • A team of 10,000 workers was required to construct the dome of the Hagia Sophia.
  • Unlike the Notre Dame cathedral, which took almost a century to build, the Hagia Sophia construction took an astonishingly short span of 5 years, 10 months, and 4 days without the aid of machines. 
  • The building of Hagia Sophia involved contributions from all parts of the great Byzantine Empire, including green marble from Egypt, yellow stone from Syria, and black stone from the Bosporus region.
  • Hagia Sophia was destroyed twice during its construction: first in C.E. 404 during riots and then again during the Nika Uprising in 532 C.E.
  • The architects of the Hagia Sophia incorporated columns from the Temple of Artemis into its interior design, contributing to its grandeur and magnificence.

Plan your visit to Hagia Sophia easily by checking the visiting hours, finding convenient ways to reach the location, and ensuring hassle-free parking arrangements.


Who Built Hagia Sophia?

In 532 AD, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I built Hagia Sophia.

And tasked the construction of the Church to two well-known architects Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus.

They gained fame for their contributions to the Basilica Cistern, Istanbul’s other famous landmark.

How much did the Hagia Sophia cost to build?

According to the Greek article on Wikipedia, the Hagia Sophia was built in just five years and cost “over 20 million golden dramas,” equivalent to over 400 million euros.

This architectural masterpiece, now admired by tourists, exceeded the budget and significantly strained the Byzantine Empire.

What does Hagia Sophia mean in Greek?

Emperor Constantius, the city’s founder and Emperor Constantine’s son, dedicated the church of Hagia Sophia (meaning “Holy Wisdom”) in Constantinople (now Istanbul) in the year 360.

Why was the Hagia Sophia built?

Originally constructed as a basilica for the Greek Orthodox Christian Church, the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish) has undergone several functional transformations over the centuries. 

In 360 A.D., Byzantine Emperor Constantius commissioned the construction of the first Hagia Sophia.

What does the Hagia Sophia represent?

The Hagia Sophia represents a remarkable fusion of architectural splendor, historical significance, and religious symbolism. 

It symbolizes the rich cultural heritage of Byzantine Christianity and Islamic worship, serving as a testament to the intermingling of diverse civilizations, religions, and artistic traditions.

Why was Hagia Sophia turned into a mosque?

Erdogan converted the Hagia Sophia to appeal to Muslim sentiments and gain popular support. 

This move was part of Turkey’s competition with Saudi Arabia for influence in the Sunni Muslim world, aiming to assert its position and leadership.

Importance of hagia sophia?

The Hagia Sophia was a hub for religious, political, and artistic endeavors in the Byzantine era. 

Following the conquest of Constantinople by Sultan Mehmed II in 1453, it became a crucial site for Muslim worship, having been transformed into a mosque under his decree.

Featured Image: Commons.wikimedia.org

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