Cathedral, mosque, museum: one and a half thousand years of history of Hagia Sophia of Constantinople in entertaining facts

In 2020, Istanbul's most iconic landmark has been transformed from a museum into a mosque

The Hagia Sophia is amazing for its sheer size. Since 1453, it has been a mosque, and in 1935, 12 years after Turkey was declared a secular republic, it became a museum. After 85 years, the museum again turned into a mosque. “Around the World” recalls some interesting facts from the history of Hagia Sophia.

Cathedral, mosque, museum: one and a half thousand years of history of Hagia Sophia of Constantinople in interesting facts

Sofia, no

A considerable number of people believe that the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople was consecrated in honor of a certain saint named Sophia – for example, in honor of St. Sophia of Rome, who suffered for her faith in 304, or in honor of Sophia, who was the mother of teenagers Faith, Hope and Love, martyred, according to church tradition, about a century and a half earlier, and was glorified as a saint along with them.

However, this is not so: the cathedral was dedicated to the Wisdom of God (in ancient Greek Σοφία & nbsp; – “skill”, “knowledge”, “wisdom”), a special property of God in Christianity, which was identified with Christ and was especially revered in the east.

An analogue of the Wisdom of God can be found not only in Christianity: in ancient Greece, this property was closely associated with Athena, this term is also used in Judaism and is found in the Old Testament. Moreover, there is a parallel in Islam -there Divine knowledge is personified by the Preserved Tablet, which is the source of all sacred scriptures, in which all events of the past, present and future are recorded.

Most of the other Hagia Sophia, by the way, is also dedicated to the Wisdom of God. This applies, among other things, to St. Sophia of Kyiv and St. Sophia of Novgorod (one of the oldest churches in Russia), built in the 11th century, as well as, say, Hagia Sophia in Vologda (XVI century), the oldest stone building in the city. It is noteworthy that three previous Christian churches built on this site in the 6th-5th centuries were also consecrated in honor of Sophia the Wisdom of God.

The Cathedral of Constantinople, after being turned into a mosque, retained its name: in Turkish it was called Ayasofya.

A masterpiece in five years and ten months

Notre Dame Cathedral was built in 182 years (1163-1345), St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome – 120 years (1506-1626), St. Isaac's Collection in St. Petersburg – 40 years (1818-1858). Hagia Sophia of Constantinople was built in five years and ten months by 10 thousand workers.

Construction began in the spring of 532, 40 days after the inhabitants of the city, who raised the Nika uprising (the largest in the history of the city – about 35 thousand people were killed during the suppression), burned the previous basilica of Hagia Sophia along with a significant part of Constantinople. That one was built 117 years earlier by order of Emperor Theodosius II & nbsp; – on the site of a previous church with the same dedication that died in a fire.

It is noteworthy that the first Christian church of Hagia Sophia was erected on this site back in 337 by order of Emperor Constantine the Great and stood until 404, until it died – you can easily guess! – in fire during the next uprising (yes, uprisings and fires were not uncommon in the capital of the Byzantine Empire). Then Theodosius II was already ruling in Constantinople, on whose account, therefore, two Saint Sophias – 404 and 415.

But the current one, built by Emperor Justinian, far surpassed them all. Suffice it to say that Justinian, who conceived the new temple as a visiting card of the capital and a monument to his reign, attached to the former market square, on which the first three Sophias stood, several surrounding ones, bought from the owners of the plots, and demolished all the buildings on them.

He entrusted the construction to Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Trall, who built a few years earlier next to the house where Justinian lived in his youth, the church of Sergius and Bacchus, where the emperor and his family loved to visit.

Cathedral, mosque, museum: one and a half thousand years of history of Hagia Sophia of Constantinople in interesting facts

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Justinian decided to build his Hagia Sophia on a grand scale and succeeded: the cathedral is 82 meters long, about 73 meters wide, and the 31-meter diameter dome rests on four massive pillars, and its top is 55.6 meters away from the floor (in the first version, the dome was flatter and its height was lower; it acquired its current appearance and parameters after restructuring).

At the same time, the drum of the dome is cut through by 40 windows, as a result of which the space under it is flooded with light, and the the vault with the mosaic seems to be hanging in the air. This dome was the largest on the planet for nine centuries – until it was overtaken by the Florentine Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, where the dome has a diameter of more than 42 meters.

At the same time, Hagia Sophia itself remained the largest building and the largest Christian church on the planet for about the same period. The staff of the cathedral under Justinian was 525 people (later it was increased), of which there were 50 priests alone – twice as many as singers.

Cathedral, mosque, museum: one and a half thousand years of history of Hagia Sophia of Constantinople in interesting facts

Gothic mosques

Hagia Sophia is the most famous Christian church turned into a mosque, but far from the only one. Such a fate befell many churches throughout Byzantium, as well as in some other once-Christian countries that fell under Muslim rule. And there, church buildings, like the Cathedral of Constantinople, acquired minarets, lost images and statues, but nevertheless retained recognizable features.

One of the most exotic results of such changes is Hagia Sophia in Nicosia, aka Selimiye Mosque, as well as St. Nicholas Cathedral in Famagusta, aka Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque (both in the territory of the unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus). Before becoming mosques, they were Gothic cathedrals, with the second modeled on the late Gothic Reims Cathedral with all the indispensable features of this style.

Cathedral, mosque, museum: one and a half thousand years of history of Hagia Sophia of Constantinople in interesting facts

Collapses and reconstructions

Although Hagia Sophia may appear to be strong and unshakable, this impression is misleading: less than twenty years after its completion, two earthquakes cracked the central dome and the eastern semi-dome, and underground points on May 7, 558 caused the collapse of the central dome. (Modern Turkey in general and the region where present-day Istanbul is located, in particular, have been a seismically restless place for many centuries and remain so to this day.) However, not only earthquakes led to the collapse, but also errors in load calculations made by designers.

The reconstruction, which included the construction of a new shape of the dome and some alterations to the interior, was completed by 562. In this form, the cathedral stood for several centuries, having survived the era of iconoclasm with the smearing and destruction of icons and mosaics, the strongest fire and another earthquake in 859, which caused the collapse of one of the half-domes, and finally the earthquake of 989, as a result of which one of the arches of the dome collapsed. The then Emperor Vasily II called on the prominent Armenian architect Trdat to restore the cathedral, who, in addition to restoring and strengthening the arch, carried out a number of construction and reconstruction works that took six years.

And then the building experienced many misadventures from nature. In particular, it was especially severely damaged in the middle of the 14th century by earthquakes that caused a partial collapse of the domes. Since then, the cathedral has undergone numerous restorations and reconstructions, the most extensive of which took place in the late 40s of the XIX century, not to mention the numerous changes made after the transformation of Hagia Sophia into a mosque.

The latter included the addition of minarets and additional premises and services to the cathedral building, the destruction of interior details associated with Christian worship and the addition of those for Islamic worship, hiding images, etc.

Cathedral, mosque, museum: one and a half thousand years of history of Hagia Sophia of Constantinople in entertaining facts

Exhibition of achievements of the imperial economy< /h2>

Justinian built the cathedral as a symbol of the power and wealth of his empire and did not spare not only bricks, mortar and laborers. The best marble and other building materials were brought to Constantinople from all over the empire, even from Africa.

By decree of the emperor, the architectural elements of ancient buildings – green marble columns – from Ephesus, porphyry – were used to decorate the cathedral – from Rome, and also gold, silver, ivory, and so on, and so forth, and so on. To decorate the altar, a wide variety of precious stones were used in countless quantities.

It is not surprising that Justinian spent several annual budgets of the empire on the construction and decoration of the cathedral, and also ordered that part of the income of some city trade and craft corporations be given to the construction and subsequent maintenance of the temple (by the way, Sultan Mehmed II had to do the same, conquered Constantinople in 1453).

Cathedral, mosque, museum: one and a half thousand years of history of Hagia Sophia of Constantinople in interesting facts

The traditions of Justinian were continued by other rulers . So, at the end of the 10th century, the emperor Theophilus installed in the cathedral a carved door from a pagan temple in Tarsus – it is dated to the 2nd century BC. e. And Sultan Murad II, who ruled in the 16th century, installed huge vessels for ablutions, taken from Pergamum and made there between the 4th and 1st centuries. BC e. from solid pieces of marble.

All these riches were very attractive to the invaders. Many people think that the capture of Constantinople by the Turks caused the greatest damage to Hagia Sophia (and the entire Byzantine Empire), but this is not so: most of the valuables were taken out of here when the city fell under the onslaught of the Crusaders in April 1204 during the Fourth Crusade.

Material first published in June 2020, partially updated in May 2022

Nikita Kharchevnikov

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