Who has not seen pictures of this famous landmark of Istanbul, Turkey? Well I think most would have since those visiting Istanbul, Turkey never fail to include this important land mark in their visiting priorities for its grandeur and eye catching architecture - Hagia Sophia Museum.
To many, it is a mosque. Well yes it has been a mosque once too. But it may come as a surprise that the structure was originally served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople from 360 until 1453. However, between 1204 and 1261, it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire.
In 1453, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II, who subsequently ordered the building converted into a mosque. The bells, altar, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels were removed and many of the mosaics were plastered over. Islamic features – such as the mihrab, minbar, and four minarets – were added while in the possession of the Ottomans.
The four minarets were added by the Ottomans
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.
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
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.
For almost 500 years the principal mosque of Istanbul, Hagia Sophia served as a model for many other Ottoman mosques, such as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque of Istanbul), the Sehzade Mosque, the Süleymaniye Mosque, the Rüstem Pasha Mosque and the Kiliç Ali Pasa Mosque.
Hagia Sophia is famous in particular for its massive dome which is considered to be 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 thereafter, 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.
One of the oldest photo of the Hagia Sophia Museum
The Church was dedicated to the Logos, the second person of the Holy Trinity, its dedication feast taking place on 25 December, the anniversary of the Birth of the incarnation of the Logos in Christ. Although it is sometimes referred to as Sancta Sophia (as though it were named after Saint Sophia), Sophia is the phonetic spelling in Latin of the Greek word for wisdom – the full name in Greek being "Shrine of the Holy Wisdom of God".
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.
In 1996, owing to the deterioration of the structure, the World Monuments Fund placed Hagia Sophia on 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.
The use of the complex as a place of worship (mosque or church) has been strictly prohibited till 2006, when 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.
The museum's hours are 9.30 am to 4.30 pm, Tuesday through Sunday; entry fee is 25 TL, or free with the use of a Museum Card.
If you are visiting Turkey and happen to be in Istanbul, you will be compelled to visit the Hagia Sophia Museum as it sits invitingly on a higher plane and no no tourist can miss to leave Istanbul without visiting it.
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