History lives on here

The Hagia Sophia is around 1500 years old.

The Hagia Sophia is around 1500 years old.   | Photo Credit: AFP

The Taj Mahal in India, the Hagia Sophia in Turkey, and the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome are some of the iconic buildings in the world today. The Hagia Sophia, located in Istanbul, Turkey, is said to have changed the history of architecture as it was “the epitome of Byzantine architecture”. It remained the world’s largest cathedral for 1,000 years until the cathedral in Seville, Spain, was completed in 1520. The fact that an edifice of this magnitude has survived is little short of a miracle. Today, it attracts more than two million visitors annually.

The beginnings

Emperor Justinian I inaugurated the Hagia Sophia on December 27, 537 AD. Sophia is the phonetic spelling in Latin of the Greek word for wisdom. The church was dedicated to the Wisdom of God, the Logos. The present building was the third church to occupy the site, as the earlier one was destroyed. Justinian commissioned Greek architects Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles to build a new basilica. It was so richly and artistically decorated that Justinian proclaimed, “ Solomon, I have outdone thee!”

Initially called Magna Ecclesia meaning the Great Church because of its size, it had millions of golden glass cubes forming a glittering canopy overhead. Each cube was set at a subtly different angle to reflect the flicker of candles and oil lamps that illuminated night ceremonies. The sixth-century historian Procopius marvelled that the Byzantine Cathedral “does not appear to rest upon a solid foundation, but to cover the place beneath as though it were suspended from heaven by the fabled golden chain.”

Hagia Sophia’s main nave is seen through The Emperor’s Gate.

Hagia Sophia’s main nave is seen through The Emperor’s Gate.   | Photo Credit: AFP

The Imperial Gate dating to the 6th century was reserved solely for the emperor. Successive emperors were crowned in this cathedral. Legend has it the Emperor Door was made with wood from Noah’s Ark. When the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople (now Istanbul) in the 15th century, they turned it into a mosque.

In 1934, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic, turned it into a museum. The Hagia Sophia became a UNESCO World Heritage site and Turkey’s most famous tourist spot.

In the 1990s, during emergency repairs on the dome, workers uncovered graffiti that had been scrawled by 10th century repairmen in the 10th century imploring God for protection, as they worked from scaffolds 150 feet above the floor. “Lord, help your servant, Gregorius,” ran a typical one. says Robert Ousterhout, an architectural historian, says, “You can imagine how scared they might have been up there.”

Earlier this month, Turkey’s highest court allowed the museum to be converted into a mosque again.

Incidentally, this World Heritage Site has a resident cat, 15-year-old Gli, which has her own Instagram account!

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2020 11:46:22 PM |

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