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hagıa sophıa
the cathedral of holy wisdom

The first name of the first Church which was built in 360 was ‘’Megale Ekklesia’’ which meant ‘’the Grand Church’’. It was simply a basilica with a wooden roof that was built on the site of a pagan temple. On the contrary to the popular belief, it was donated by Constantinus II not by Constantine the Great. When the wooden roof of the basilica was burned by a fire in 404 and it was completely destroyed  in a second fire in 414. Theodisius II dedicated another church in 415. Among the ruins of Theodisius’ church. The architrave of twelve sheep that represents the twelve apostles of Christ can be seen in front of the monumental entrance.

French illustrator Antoine Helbert.2.jpg

Under the reign of Theodisius, the council of Chalcedon condemned the monophysite heresy.
Therefoe, old pagan temples were descructed and the remains of them were used in new Christian structures. The upsided Medusa heads in Basilica Cistern is oneof the most important examples of this.
Under the reign of Justinian, the Byzantine Empire lived its most magnificient years. However in 532, People who got rid of the high taxes and military pressure, revolted against Justinian. With the help of his wife Theodora, Justinian was able to quell the riot. Justinian decided to resist the rebellion after Thedora’s impressive speech as mentioned by Procipius. ‘Purple is the best winding sheet’ . it will be helpfull to remind that the purple color or more clearly ''the color of Judas Tree'' was the color which represents the Reign. Both Hagia Eirene and Hagia Sophia were burned down by the rebels. Within the same year, the reconstruction of the new church began. And it was completed in five years.


Despite the Justinian’s hustle, the architects invented new perspective in architecture. Hagia Sophia was unique in many aspects when it was finished. Pendentives and a dome with a square base were some of the examples accomplished by them. 
In fact there are othertheories especially by the symbolismexperts. As known, power of leading or dominating the people had been always handled by Religion or Royalty. During some time of the history this power was used by spirituality and sometimes by Royalty. the most common usage was to share this power between two powerfull sides. the sacred buildings and churches were used to be built generally to depict this kind of a share. Classical churcehes or temles contain symbols about them. İn the churches, the square main building was generally used to represent the religion in power & the one small dome represents the Royalty or the power of the emperor. There are also types as ''A square building'' and ''an entrance to building with a hemisphere dome. when two of these symbols used in connection they used to represent these two power shared by Spirituals and Royals. The symbolism theories says that,  Justinian wasn't happy to share his power with the spirituals and he decided to built the church as ''A square main building'' & '' a giganting dome which settles all over the main building''. They say, by doing so, the emperor was aiming to emphesise his superior power over the religion.

When Hagia Sophia was inaugurated, Justinian was so impressed and excited that after he thanked God he is said to have cried ‘’Glory to God who has deemed me worthy of accomplishing such a work! O Solomon! I have vanquished thee’’ implying the height of the dome.


Hagia Sophia couldn’t resist the earthquakes and arches and the main dome collapsed in 557.  Isidorus constructed a new bigger dome by the order of Justinian. The dome of Isidorus survives today with its spectacular view. In 563, Hagia Sophia was reconsecrated by Justinian.

During the 7th century,  the attemps by Arabs on the siege of Constantinople didn’t succeed.

In Iconoclast period the images and idols were prohibited to worship. So, most of the mosaics containing a human image were destroyed and covered during the reign of Leo III. This controversy continued until the end of the reign of the last Iconoclast Emperor Theophilius. As soon as Theophilius died, his wife started renovations in churches, and made the icons reinstalled. 

During the 9th & 10th century, Hagia Sophia suffered from the earthquakes which damaged the dome and the semi domes and the arches.

In the 11th century, Byzantine Empire was suffered losses in its both the West and East lands. The Byzantine cooperated with Crusaders against Turks & Arabs. The 4th Crusades went beyond its purpose and turned into the occupation of Constantinople because of the religious conflict between Catholic & Orthodox. (Read our article ''The fall of Constantinople to Crusaders'')


In his ‘’Chronicle of the fourth Crusade and the Constantinople‘’ Geoffrey de Villehardouin describes the sack

‘’The spoils and booty were collected together, and you must know that all was not brought into the common stock, for not a few kept things back, mangre the excommunication of the Pope. That which was brought to the churches was collected together and divided, in equal parts, between the Franks & the Venetians, according to the sworn covenant.’’

Nicetas Choniates, a Byzantine government official and historian describes the occupation of Constantinople in his work ‘’History’’ :

‘’How shall I begin to tell of the deeds wrought by these nefarious men! Alas, the images which ought to have been adored, were trodden under foot! Alas the relics of the holy martyrs were thrown into unclean places. When the sacred vases & utensils of unsurpassable art and grace and rare material , and the fine silver… the ambo of admirable workmanship, and the door''


After the conquest, relics of True Cross, golden objects, chalices, plates and furnishings and even the doors were scattered all around Europe. Today, some churches in Venice , Germany and Italy are full of Byzantine belongings.

In 1453, the Ottomans seiged than invaded the city. It is said by Historians that when Mehmed II entered Hagia Sophia, he bent down to take a handful of earth and poured it on his head to thank God. It is also said that he destroyed the Altar. On Ottoman Historian reports that Mehmet the 2nd, got his bow and an arrow & shoot an arrow to the dome of the church.

The Sultan converted the church into a mosque at once. Although Sultan made many restorations & renovations in new Hagia Sophia, he preserved many mosaic. When Sultan saw a mosaic of Christ first, he thought him to be a venerable man, not a prophet.


In ‘’ the Travels’’ of Ibn-i Battuta who visited Hagia Sophia in the 14th. Century, he makes a mention of the visits of the Pope in those years ‘’ the Pope comes to it once in the year. When he is at a distance of four nights’ journey from the town the king goes out to meet him and dismounts before him. When he enters the city, the king walks on foot in front of him, and comes to salute him every morning and evening during the whole period of his stay in Constantinople until he departs.’’.

Interior view of the Hagia Sophia mosque
13th century Deesis Mosaic of Jesus Chri
Hagia Sophia Inner Narthex, 1852, Gaspar

Roger de Flor is received by the Byzantine emperor. Entry of Roger de Flor in Constantinople . Behind is Hagia Sophia

The monograms in the titles of the Hagia Sophia columns and their meanings

Hagia Sophia has a total of 107 columns, 40 in the main area and 67 in the other sections. The 16 columns in the main section were brought from the Temple of Artemis in the Ancient City of Ephesus, the 8 red columns in the four corners were brought from Heliopolis in Egypt, and the other columns were brought from the Baalbek Temple in Lebanon and from the other parts of the empire. When looked carefully, it will be seen that there are different monograms in each of the column headings of Hagia Sophia. The monograms on these four columns include the names Basileus, Justinian, Theodora and Augusta. In Byzantine monograms, the letters are placed not in a certain order, but in the same way as they are geometrically placed. This makes them a puzzle. All but one of the column headings of Hagia Sophia have one of these monograms.

Hagia Sophia Columns
inside hagia Sophia
Theodora, Wife of Justinian the Great
Varangian Guard
Covering the frescoes after the Fall of Constantinople
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