Hagia Sophia Architecture – Byzantine Empire

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Hagia Sophia Architecture

Byzantine Architecture of Hagia Sophia

One of the most special domed buildings in the world, Hagia Sophia stayed as the largest temple in the earth for thousand years after it had been built in 537. Located at the heart of Istanbul, this structure is 1500 years old. But Hagia Sophia of today was not the first church to be built there. Let’s now take a look at the story of three churches built at the same place.

Hagia Sophia: A Marvel Of Ancient Wisdom
Hagia Sophia Architecture

Beautiful Hagia Sophia © Photo: Serhat Engul

Megale Ekklesia – The Great Church (360-405 A.D.)

The first church was started to be built with the name of Megale Ekklesia by the founder of Istanbul, Constantine, on the same area. This church was finished by his son Constantius II.

The reason the early church was destroyed was due to a public uprising. Empress Aelia Eudoxia, the wife of Emperor Arcadius, placed a silver sculpture of her in the courtyard of the church. This wasn’t favored by the Archbishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom.

After fiercely opposing the empress in his sermons, Archbishop John was exiled from the city. The people of Constantinople wanted to restore the archbishop known as The Golden Mouth (Chrysostomos). The conflict between the people and the emperor turned into a rebellion, and during the turmoil Hagia Sophia burned down.

Theodosian Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia Architecture

Theodosian Hagia Sophia © Serhat Engul

Church Of Theodosius II (415-532 A.D.)

Theodosius II initiated the building of a new church. The new church, made completely by stone and marble, was a beautiful structure but it was destroyed as a result of another uprising 100 years later.

Justinian is accepted as the most important emperor of 1000 years old Byzantine Empire. His fame stems from the fact that he wanted to re-establish the glory of Roman Empire. Justinian managed to do this in certain ways by significantly expanding the borders and building monumental structures like Hagia Sophia. However even such great deeds did not prevent him from almost losing his throne due to a riot.

A riot broke out at the 5th year of Justinian’s rule in Constantinople. The Second Church together with many other buildings in the city were burnt down during the uprising called Nika Revolt. The riots were repressed after Justinian’s general Belisarius killed 30,000 people and this situation allowed Justinian to build a wonder to deem his throne legitimate.

Hagia Sophia Architecture

Hagia Sophia Architecture

Details of Hagia Sophia Architecture to admire.

3rd Generation Hagia Sophia (Hagia Sofia of Today)

The best architects of the period, Anthemios and Isidoros, were commissioned for the work. Their post was actually bed of nails. Because they had to answer to demanding and ambitious Emperor Justinian. They were given five years to build the biggest temple ever seen until then.

Thanks to their incredible architectural genius, they planned a dome with 32 meters width and 49 meters height. Weight of the dome caused big issues. For the lightest bricks possible, raw material was brought from Rhodes. To stick bricks together, they invented a mixture which had never been used before. This mixture has been holding the structure together for 1500 years.

Although the dome was very large, it did not reflect the grandeur of the building. Therefore, they did something for the first time in history in order to make the dome look larger. They built two semi domes next to the central dome. These two semi domes not only create huge extra space but also support the central dome by pressurizing to the sides. These semi domes are also supported by quarter domes and covering main carrier walls in a classy way.

Picture of Hagia Sophia Square in Sultanahmet
Hagia Sophia Architecture

People strolling through Hagia Sophia Square. © Serhat Engul

Hagia Sophia Architecture and Ottoman Mosques

This incredible idea was later on used in Ottoman mosques. The best example is Blue Mosque, located next to Hagia Sophia. When we look at the mosque outside, we see cascading domes.

Mosques Of Istanbul
Hagia Sophia Architecture

Mosques of Istanbul

Resemblance between the Hagia Sophia and Ottoman Imperial Mosques is so obvious. © Photo: Serhat Engul

Collapse of the Grand Dome of Hagia Sophia (557)

The church was started to be built in 532 and opened in 537. This biggest structure ever until then was finished in a record time. However, Istanbul was an earthquake zone. In the big earthquake of 557, dome of Hagia Sophia was destroyed. Justinian was alive at this date but both architects were dead. Nephew of one of the architects, Isidoros, architect “Young Isidoros” was entrusted with the work.

Young Isidoros took the work slowly and built a very strong dome in four years. The original height of 49 meters were increased to 56 meters. The reason was that Young Isidoros realized a calculation error in the original dome so he used a different technique. As a result, the dome he built still stands for 1500 years.

Hagia Sophia Interior Decoration
Hagia Sophia Architecture

Hagia Sophia Center

The marble room in the distance called as Muezzin’s Lodge. That is added in Ottoman period when Hagia Sophia was a mosque. Christian and Muslim relics creates the Hagia Sophia’s impressive hybrid culture. © Serhat Engul

Hagia Sophia Mosque During Ottoman Empire Period

Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque in 1453 when Ottomans captured the city. Ottomans did not change the general structure of the building. But they restored it due to the fact that it was not taken good care of during the recent years of Byzantine Empire. Initially they added only one minaret to a mosque, followed by other minarets.

Due to the old structure, big pressure from the center to the corners caused problems when it was a mosque during Ottomans. Famous Ottoman Architect Sinan, who restored Hagia Sophia, built enormous buttresses. Twin minarets on the west side of the structure was also built during his time.

Hagia Sophia stayed as the biggest cathedral in the world from 537 until 1626 when St. Peter’s Cathedral was built. It is still one of the biggest temples in the world.

Hagia Sophia Information Panels
Hagia Sophia Architecture

Information panel depicts Hagia Sophia as a mosque. © Serhat Engul


Further Recommended Reading:


Hagia Sophia Architecture Blog Post By Serhat Engül

Characteristics Of Byzantine Architecture

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