Hagia Sophia (Greek), Sancta Sophia (Latin), Ayasofya (Turkish)—the Church of the Divine Wisdom —is among the most important buildings in the history of architecture.
Built on the order of the Byzantine Emperor
Justinian (527-65 AD)
in 537 AD, next to the Empire's Great Palace and the Hippodrome (map), it was the greatest church in Christendom until the construction of St Peter's Basilica in Rome a thousand years later.
wide, flat dome was a daring
engineering feat in the 6th century,
and architects still marvel at the
building's many innovations.
The great church was a coveted prize of the young Ottoman sultan, Mehmet
the Conqueror, when he took the city from the last holder of the Byzantine imperial title, in 1453. Cleaned, repaired and rededicated, it kept its sacred character as a mosque.
It became the model and starting-point for most Ottoman religious architecture to follow during the empire's later four centuries.
It served as Istanbul's
most revered mosque until 1935 when Atatürk,
recognizing its world-historical significance,
had it proclaimed a museum,
and so it remains.
Although most of the building is still
a museum, a room on the east
side was opened in 2007 as a prayer-place (İbadete
Açık Kısmı), and
the call to prayer is proclaimed from
the four minaret above it that were added by the Ottomans.
Most of the 30
million gold tesserae (tiny
mosaic tiles) which cover the church's
interior—especially the dome—have
recently been restored
to the brilliance they boasted
1500 years ago. The scafflding used for the work, removed during 2012 when Istanbul was a European Capital of Culture, has now been returned to intrude upon the interior.
Although beautiful Byzantine mosaics can be seen throughout the building, the richest collection is on the mezzanine
level reached by a rough stone ramp from the narthex.
Hagia Sophia Museum
Sultanahmet, Eminönü, İstanbul, Turkey (map)