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Aya Sofya or Hagia Sophia Istanbul

Aya Sofya or Hagia Sophia Istanbul
Aya Sofya, also known as Haghia Sophia, was for 1,000 years the largest enclosed space in the world.  Positioned between the Topkapi Palace and Sultanahmet Mosque ( Blue Mosque ), the church dominated the city skyline for a millennium.  It was designed to make an impression of strength and wealth of the Byzantine emperors to important foreign dignitaries and their own people. 

Aya Sofya “The Church of the Divine Wisdom”, is the third church of this name to stand on the site; Emperor Justinian commissioned it to be rebuilt in the 6th century after its predecessor was completely destroyed during the Nika revolutions in 532.

Where is Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia is located in the Sultanahmet district of Fatih .

Construction and Architecture of Hagia Sophia

The 30m dome, although supported by solid walls, appears to float over an empty space.  It took 5 years to build, but 20 years and several earthquakes later, the central dome collapsed and architect Isidorus the Younger, nephew of one of the original architects, accepted the role for its reconstruction.
In 1204, during the fourth crusade, the worst desecration took place when Catholic soldiers broke up and removed the altar, along with the silver and gilt carvings and damaging the hangings.  

In 1452, reluctantly, the Byzantine church joined with the Catholics, hoping to get aid from the West for Constantinople against the Turks, but they were too late, and on 29 May 1453 Mehmet the Conqueror captured the city. 
On riding to Aya Sofya, he instructed that all relics be removed from the church and on the following Friday the first Islamic prayers were heard here.  Soon after, on the southwest corner, a wooden minaret was erected and this was not replaced until the 16th century when Mimar Sinan , the renowned Ottoman architect, devoted his life trying to restore and exceed the original technical achievements of the previous architects.
In the mid-nineteenth century the Swiss Fossati brothers began extensive restorative works on the many mosaics but this had to be stopped due to Islamic sensitivities and the mosaics were re-covered. 


The building remained a mosque until 1932 and after additional renovations were carried out in 1934, Aya Sofya re-opened as a museum.

Mosaics and Marbles

The most interesting of the interior decorations are the marbles and mosaics.  Upstairs in the western gallery a large circle of Thessalian marble marks the position of the ‘Throne of the Empress’.  The prettiest of the abstract mosaics can be seen under the arches of the South Gallery and also in the entrance porch (narthex).
Figurative mosaics, all dating from 726 to 843 are located in the narthex, the nave, upper gallery and the vestibule.
A very impressive mosaic of Christ, the Virgin and St. John the Baptist is located in the south gallery, although partly damaged the three faces are well preserved.  
On the east wall of the south gallery is the mosaic of Christ with Emperor Constantine IX Monomachus and Empress Zoë.  Another mosaic in the south gallery depicts the Virgin and Child between Emperor John II Comnenus and Empress Irene dating from 1118.  Their son, Prince Alexius, was added later and is portrayed as a ailing youth with a lined face and he died soon after it was completed. 
Other mosaics include a Virgin and Child located in the apse and notably, the most beautiful of all the mosaics, the Virgin and Child flanked by two emperors, dated to the last quarter of the 10th century. It is located at the exit in the Vestibule of Warriors and can be seen after passing through the Portal of the Emperor turning back towards the exit and looking upwards.

The Weeping Column

Also popular is the ‘Weeping Column’ in the northwest corner of the aisle which legend tells in the year 1200 St. Gregory the Miracle Worker appeared there and since that time moisture seeps from the column and is believed to cure many illnesses and conditions. 

Islamic Objects at Hagia Sophia

There are a few remains of the time when Aya Sofya was a mosque; a sultan’s lodge, mihrab,  mimber and the huge wooden plaques that show sacred Islamic names of God, the Prophet Mohammed and the first four caliphs.

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