Monday, March 5, 2012

Hagia Sophia

Constantine 1st was emperor of Rome from 306 to 337. In 330 he moved the capital of the empire to a new city he had built for the purpose. He called this city New Rome but it was soon known as Constantinople. In 1931 its name was changed to Istanbul.

Justinian 1st was emperor of Rome from 527 to 565. He was also the most powerful emperor since Constantine. Justinian thought that Rome was the most important empire in the world. He thought that Constantinople was the most important city in that empire. He thought that the leader of the church in Constantinople was the most important Christian. So Justinian ordered the construction of the most important church building in the empire. He called it Hagia Sophia which means “Holy Wisdom.”

Work on Hagia Sophia started in 532. Tradition tells us that Justinian hired 10,000 men to do it. These men were led by Isidore of Miletus, a scientist, and Anthemius of Tralles, a mathematician. They finished the building in five years using materials from all over the empire.

In 553 and again in 557, earthquakes caused cracks in the main dome. In 558 a third earthquake caused the main dome to fall in. Justinian ordered the rebuilding of the dome under the direction of Isidore the Younger. He was the nephew of Isidore of Miletus. This rebuilding was finished in 562.

Once it was rebuilt, Hagia Sophia was huge: 269 feet (82 meters) long, 240 feet (73 meters) wide, and 180 feet (55 meters) high. For a thousand years it was the biggest church building in the world.

Through the long centuries, Hagia Sophia has suffered damage from fire, enemy attacks, and other earthquakes. So far it has been repaired each time.

Roman Catholic Crusaders looted Constantinople in 1204. When they did, they stole everything they could from Hagia Sophia. Catholic leaders then made it a Catholic church building. It remained so until 1261. Then an Orthodox Christian army recaptured the city and returned control of Hagia Sophia to the leader of Orthodox Christians.

In 1453 Muslims captured Constantinople. When they did, the Roman Empire finally ended. They made Hagia Sophia a mosque. It was used as such for almost five hundred years.

Major work to make the building stronger was led by the architect Mimar Sinan during the reign of the sultan Selim 2nd (1566-1577). Under the sultan Mahmud 1st (1730-1754) the existing building was again repaired. Other buildings to house a school, a soup kitchen, and a library were added to it.

The most important reconstruction of Hagia Sophia was done under the sultan Abdülmecid (1839-1861). It was supervised by two brothers, the architects Gaspare and Giuseppe Fosatti. It involved major changes to the existing building and the construction of new buildings. It was finished in 1849.

Hagia Sofia stopped being used as a mosque in 1931. It has served as a museum since 1935.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.