The Hagia Sophia reflects on its long history...
The Hagia Sophia was built as an Orthodox Church on the site originally occupied by a pagan temple, which saw two earlier incarnations of the Hagia Sophia, initially called Magna Ecclesia (Μεγάλη Ἐκκλησία) - the Great Church. Both churches were destroyed in Political Riots, remnants of which are still found on the site.
It was Byzantine Emperor Justinian I on February 23, 532AD, who ordered Isodore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles to construct the third and most majestic Basilica of the Holy Wisdom - the Sancta Sapienta, or Sancta Sophia. The selection of a physicist and a mathematician, respectively, indicated the challenge that lay in constructing the largest dome ever constructed. The result was both the last achievement of the Roman Late Antiquity and the first Byzantine masterpiece.
Earthquakes in 553 and 557 caused cracks in the main dome causing a complete collapse of the dome in 558. Isodorus the Younger reconstructed a lighter dome that rose an additional 6.25 metres higher than the original, to reach the current interior height of 55.6 metres. The new scalloped form also allowed the installation of the forty windows around the base of the dome, giving the impression of the dome floating on a band of light.
The Hagia Sophia was captured by Christians during the Fourth Crusade in 1204 under the auspices of Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice, who trashed the interior and left the Basilica to dilapidate. After the Byzantines reconquered Constantinople in 1261, the Basilica was restored and received the four buttresses on the eastern and northern faces. A partial collapse closed the Basilica in 1346.
The fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 at the hand of Mehmed II left the future of the Hagia Sophia under the control of the Ottoman Turks. As Constantinople became Istanbul, so the once proud Basilica was revived as a Mosque - the Ayasofya. The first minaret was built and a minbar and mihrab were installed in the interior by Mehmed II and most mosaics were plastered over.
In the early days of his illustrious career, around 1567, the great Ottoman architect Sinan saved the Ayasofya. He added two minarets, as well as the Sultan's Loge, but most importantly he restrenghtened the dome against earthquakes, by adding buttresses to reinforce the four triangular masonry corners, the pendentives, which distribute and attach the weight of the circular dome through the ribs of the forty dome windows onto the square base. A massive pier column stands at each corner of the pendentive base to enlarge the sense of space in the enormous open interior. This half cubic roof design inspired and likely enabled Mimar Sinan to construct his greatest works, crowned by the splendid Süleymaniye Mosque.
The madrasah was added in 1739 by Sultan Mahmud I who also ordered another restoration, and perhaps most notably, the picturesque Şadirvan, or ablutions fountain, thus growing the mosque into a social complex, or külliye.
The Swiss-Italian brothers Gaspare and Giuseppe Fossati undertook the most intensive restoration yet of the Hagia Sopia in 1847. Again the dome and its surrounding vaults were straightened as much as possible. The pendentive design had inherently caused the outerwalls to be pushed out by the weight of the dome and the many previous corrective repairs had distorted the dome's original perfect circular form, leaving it somewhat elliptical measuring 31.24 metres by 30.86 metres at the extremes. The pier columns were then straightened and reinforced with steel. These Corinthian columns actually predate the Hagia Sophia, having originally been disassembled and shipped from Baalbek. Each column weighs 70 tons and rises 20 metres with a diameter of 1.5 metres.
Aesthetically, the four minarets were adjusted to be of equal height, the mosaics in the upper gallery were cleaned, but most evident was the installation of the giant discs on the columns, inscribed by the calligrapher Kazasker İzzed Effendi with the names of Allah, the prophet Muhammad, the first four caliphs and the two grand children of Muhammad. Amongst the several Fossati additions to the külliye was the Neo-Byzantine style Sultan's Gallery.
The fall of the Ottoman Empire and the subsequent foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 brought Mustafa Kemal Atatürk to power. In 1935 Ataturk ordered the third transformation of the Hagia Sofia, this time from a mosque into a museum. For the first time in centuries the marble floors were revealed as the carpets were removed, while a an intricate plaster removal process successfully recovered the original Byzantine mosaics.
Today the Hagia Sophia is open to the public, an icon of the ages - from the Romans, through the Byzantines and Ottomans to modern day.