Hagia Sophia (from the Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία, "Holy Wisdom"; Latin: Sancta Sophia or Sancta Sapientia; Turkish: Ayasofya) is a former Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica (church), later an imperial mosque, and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. From the date of its construction in 537 until 1453, it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931. It was then secularized and opened as a museum on 1 February 1935.
The Church was dedicated to the Wisdom of God, the Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity, its patronal feast taking place on 25 December, the commemoration of the Birth of the incarnation of the Logos in Christ. Although sometimes referred to as Sancta Sophia (as though it were named after Saint Sophia), sophia being the phonetic spelling in Latin of the Greek word for wisdom, its full name in Greek is Ναός τῆς Ἁγίας τοῦ Θεοῦ Σοφίας, "Shrine of the Holy Wisdom of God". Famous in particular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have "changed the history of architecture." It remained the world's largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520. The current building was originally constructed as a church between 532 and 537 on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and was the third Church of the Holy Wisdom to occupy the site, the previous two having both been destroyed by rioters. It was designed by the Greek scientists Isidore of Miletus, a physicist, and Anthemius of Tralles, a mathematician.
The church contained a large collection of holy relics and featured, among other things, a 15-metre (49 ft) silver iconostasis. The focal point of the Eastern Orthodox Church for nearly one thousand years, the building witnessed the excommunication of Patriarch Michael I Cerularius on the part of Pope Leo IX in 1054, an act which is commonly considered the start of the Great Schism.
In 1453, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II, who ordered this main church of the Orthodox Christianity converted into a mosque. By this point, the Church had fallen into a state of disrepair. Nevertheless, the Christian cathedral made a strong impression on the new Ottoman rulers and they decided to convert it into a mosque. The bells, altar, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels and other relics were removed and the mosaics depicting Jesus, his Mother Mary, Christian saints and angels were also removed or plastered over. Islamic features – such as the mihrab, minbar, and four minarets – were added. It remained a mosque until 1931 when it was closed to the public for four years. It was re-opened in 1935 as a museum by the Republic of Turkey.
From its initial conversion until the construction of the nearby larger Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque of Istanbul) in 1616, it was the principal mosque of Istanbul. The Hagia Sophia served as inspiration for many other Ottoman mosques, such as the Blue Mosque, the Şehzade Mosque, the Süleymaniye Mosque, the Rüstem Pasha Mosque and the Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque.
Interior view of the Hagia Sophia, showing Islamic elements on the top of the main dome.
The first church on the site was known as the Μεγάλη Ἐκκλησία (Megálē Ekklēsíā, "Great Church"), or in Latin "Magna Ecclesia", because of its larger dimensions in comparison to the contemporary churches in the City. Inaugurated on 15 February 360 (during the reign of Constantius II) by the Arian bishop Eudoxius of Antioch, it was built next to the area where the imperial palace was being developed. The nearby Hagia Eirene ("Holy Peace") church was completed earlier and served as cathedral until the Great Church was completed. Both churches acted together as the principal churches of the Byzantine Empire.
Writing in 440, Socrates of Constantinople claimed that the church was built by Constantius II, who was working on it in 346. A tradition which is not older than the 7th – 8th century, reports that the edifice was built by Constantine the Great. Zonaras reconciles the two opinions, writing that Constantius had repaired the edifice consecrated by Eusebius of Nicomedia, after it had collapsed. Since Eusebius was bishop of Constantinople from 339 to 341, and Constantine died in 337, it seems possible that the first church was erected by the latter. The edifice was built as a traditional Latin colonnaded basilica with galleries and a wooden roof. It was preceded by an atrium. It was claimed to be one of the world's most outstanding monuments at the time.
The Patriarch of Constantinople John Chrysostom came into a conflict with Empress Aelia Eudoxia, wife of the emperor Arcadius, and was sent into exile on 20 June 404. During the subsequent riots, this first church was largely burned down. Nothing remains of the first church today.
Constantinople was taken by the Ottomans on May 29, 1453. In accordance with the custom at the time Sultan Mehmet II limited his troops three days of unbridled pillage once the city fell, after which he would claim its contents himself. Hagia Sophia was not exempted from the pillage, becoming its focal point as the invaders believed it to contain the greatest treasures of the city. Shortly after the city's defenses collapsed, pillagers made their way to the Hagia Sophia and battered down its doors. Throughout the siege worshipers participated in the Holy Liturgy and Prayer of the Hours at the Hagia Sophia, and the church formed a refuge for many of those who were unable to contribute to the city's defense, such as women, children and elderly. Trapped in the church, congregants and refugees became spoils to be divided amongst the Ottoman invaders. The building was desecrated and looted, and occupants enslaved, violated or slaughtered; while elderly and infirm were killed, women and girls were raped and the remainder chained and sold into slavery. Priests continued to perform Christian rites until stopped by the invaders. When the Sultan and his cohort entered the church he insisted it should be at once transformed into a mosque. One of the Ulama then climbed the pulpit and recited the Shahada.
Fountain (Şadırvan) for ritual ablutions
The mihrab located in the apse where the altar used to stand, pointing towards Mecca
As described by several Western visitors (such as the Córdoban nobleman Pero Tafur and the Florentine Cristoforo Buondelmonti), the church was in a dilapidated state, with several of its doors fallen from their hinges; Mehmed II ordered a renovation as well as the conversion. Mehmet attended the first Friday prayer in the mosque on 1 June 1453. Aya Sofya became the first imperial mosque of Istanbul. To the corresponding Waqf were endowed most of the existing houses in the city and the area of the future Topkapı Palace. From 1478, 2,360 shops, 1,300 houses, 4 caravanserais, 30 boza shops, and 23 shops of sheep heads and trotters gave their income to the foundation. Through the imperial charters of 1520 (AH 926) and 1547 (AH 954) shops and parts of the Grand Bazaar and other markets were added to the foundation.
Before 1481 a small minaret was erected on the southwest corner of the building, above the stair tower. Later, the subsequent sultan, Bayezid II (1481–1512), built another minaret at the northeast corner. One of these collapsed after the earthquake of 1509, and around the middle of the 16th century they were both replaced by two diagonally opposite minarets built at the east and west corners of the edifice.
In the 16th century the sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (1520–1566) brought back two colossal candlesticks from his conquest of Hungary. They were placed on either side of the mihrab. During the reign of Selim II (1566–1574), the building started showing signs of fatigue and was extensively strengthened with the addition of structural supports to its exterior by the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan, who is also considered one of the world's first earthquake engineers. In addition to strengthening the historic Byzantine structure, Sinan built the two additional large minarets at the western end of the building, the original sultan's lodge, and the Türbe (mausoleum) of Selim II to the southeast of the building in 1576-7 / AH 984. In order to do that, one year before parts of the Patriarchate at the south corner of the building were pulled down. Moreover, the golden crescent was mounted on the top of the dome, while a respect zone 35 arşin (about 24 m) wide was imposed around the building, pulling down all the houses which in the meantime had nested around it. Later his türbe hosted also 43 tombs of Ottoman princes. In 1594 / AH 1004 Mimar (court architect) Davud Ağa built the türbe of Murad III (1574–1595), where the Sultan and his Valide, Safiye Sultan were later buried. The octagonal mausoleum of their son Mehmed III (1595–1603) and his Valide was built next to it in 1608 / 1017 H by royal architect Dalgiç Mehmet Aĝa. His son Mustafa I (1617–1618; 1622–1623) converted the baptistery into his türbe.
Murad III had also two large alabaster Hellenistic urns transported from Pergamon and placed on two sides of the nave.
In 1717, under Sultan Ahmed III (1703–1730), the crumbling plaster of the interior was renovated, contributing indirectly to the preservation of many mosaics, which otherwise would have been destroyed by mosque workers. In fact, it was usual for them to sell mosaics stones – believed to be talismans – to the visitors. Sultan Mahmud I ordered the restoration of the building in 1739 and added a medrese (a Koranic school, now the library of the museum), an Imaret (soup kitchen for distribution to the poor) and a library, and in 1740 a Şadirvan (fountain for ritual ablutions), thus transforming it into a külliye, i.e. a social complex. At the same time a new sultan's lodge and a new mihrab were built inside.
Medallions and pendant chandeliers
Circa 1900 photograph, from its time as a mosque.
The most famous restoration of the Aya Sofya was ordered by Sultan Abdülmecid and completed by eight hundred workers between 1847 and 1849, under the supervision of the Swiss-Italian architect brothers Gaspare and Giuseppe Fossati. The brothers consolidated the dome and vaults, straightened the columns, and revised the decoration of the exterior and the interior of the building. The mosaics in the upper gallery were cleaned. The old chandeliers were replaced by new pendant ones. New gigantic circular-framed disks or medallions were hung on columns. They were inscribed with the names of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, the first four caliphs Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali, and the two grandchildren of Mohammed: Hassan and Hussain, by the calligrapher Kazasker Mustafa İzzed Effendi (1801–1877). In 1850 the architect Fossati built a new sultan's gallery in a Neo-Byzantine style connected to the royal pavilion behind the mosque. Outside the Aya Sofya, a timekeeper's building and a new madrasah were built. The minarets were altered so that they were of equal height. When the restoration was finished, the mosque was re-opened with ceremonial pomp on 13 July 1849.
Interior panorama of the Hagia Sophia
In 1935, the first Turkish President and founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, transformed the building into a museum. The carpets were removed and the marble floor decorations such as the Omphalion appeared for the first time in centuries, while the white plaster covering many of the mosaics was removed. Nevertheless, the condition of the structure deteriorated, and the World Monuments Fund placed Hagia Sophia on 1996 World Monuments Watch, and again in 1998. The building's copper roof had cracked, causing water to leak down over the fragile frescoes and mosaics. Moisture entered from below as well. Rising ground water had raised the level of humidity within the monument, creating an unstable environment for stone and paint. With the help of financial services company American Express, WMF secured a series of grants from 1997 to 2002 for the restoration of the dome. The first stage of work involved the structural stabilization and repair of the cracked roof, which was undertaken with the participation of the Turkish Ministry of Culture. The second phase, the preservation of the dome's interior, afforded the opportunity to employ and train young Turkish conservators in the care of mosaics. By 2006, the WMF project was complete, though other areas of Hagia Sophia continue to require conservation.
Although use of the complex as a place of worship (mosque or church) should be strictly prohibited, in 2006 the Turkish government allowed the allocation of a small room in the museum complex to be used as a prayer room for Christian and Muslim museum staff, and since 2013 from the minarets of the museum the muezzin sings the call to prayer twice per day, in the afternoon.
Since the early 2010s, several campaigns and government high officials, notably Turkey's deputy prime minister Bülent Arınç in November 2013, have been demanding that Hagia Sophia be converted into a mosque again. (Earlier, in 2007, a Greek American politician, Chris Spirou, launched an international organization "Free Agia Sophia Council" championing the cause of restoring the building to its original function as a Christian church.)