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Friday, February 26, 2010

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia is an earlier Orthodox patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. It is also called as Ayasofya in Turkish which means Holy Wisdom. It is famous in particular for its massive dome which is considered as epitome of Byzantine architecture and changed the history of architecture. It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, until the completion of the Seville Cathedral in 1520.

Hagia SophiaThe current building was originally constructed as a church between 532 and 537 A.D. on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. In fact the third Church of the Holy Wisdom to occupy the site. The previous two had both been destroyed by riots. It was designed by Isidore of Miletus, a physicist, and Anthemius of Tralles, a mathematician. The church contained a large collection of holy relics and featured, among other things, a 15 metre 49 foot silver iconostasis. It was the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople and the religious focal point of the Eastern Orthodox Church for nearly one thousand years. It was the church in which Cardinal Humbert in 1054 marched up to the altar and excommunicated Michael I Cerularius, which is commonly considered the start of the Great Schism.

In 1453, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks and Sultan Mehmed II ordered the building to be converted into a mosque. The bells, altar, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels were removed, and many mosaics were finally plastered over. The Islamic features such as mihrab, minbar, and four minarets outside were added over the course of its history under the Ottomans. It remained as a mosque until 1935, when it was converted into a museum by the Republic of Turkey. For almost 500 years the principal mosque of Istanbul, Hagia Sophia served as a model for many of the Ottoman mosques such as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the Sehzade Mosque, the Suleymaniye Mosque, the Rustem Pasha Mosque, and the Kilic Ali Pasa Mosque. Although it is sometimes referred to as Sancta Sophia, as though it were named after a saint named Sophia which in Latin of the Greek word for wisdom. The church is dedicated to Jesus Christ, in Eastern Orthodox theology, the Holy Wisdom of God.

Hagia Sophia is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. Of great artistic value was its decorated interior with mosaics and marble pillars and coverings. The temple itself was so richly and artistically decorated that Justinian proclaimed, Solomon, I have outdone thee! Justinian himself had overseen the completion of the greatest cathedral ever built up to that time, and it was to remain the largest cathedral for 1,000 years up until the completion of the cathedral in Seville in Spain.

Justinian's basilica was at once the culminating architectural achievement of late antiquity and the first masterpiece of Byzantine architecture. Its influence, both architecturally and liturgically, was widespread and enduring in the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Muslim worlds alike. The largest columns are about 19 or 20 metres tall. They are at least 1.5 metres diameter. They are made out of granite, the largest weighing well over 70 tons. Under Justinian's orders, eight Corinthian columns were disassembled from Baalbek, Lebanon and shipped to Constantinople for the construction of Hagia Sophia.

Hagia SophiaHagia SophiaThe vast interior has a complex structure. The nave is covered by a central dome which has a maximum diameter of 31.24 metres or 102 ft 6 in and a height from floor level of 55.6 metres 182 ft 5 in, about one fourth smaller and greater, respectively, than the dome of the Pantheon. The dome seems rendered weightless by the unbroken arcade of 40 arched windows under it, which help flood the colourful interior with light. Due to consecutive repairs in the course of its history, the dome has lost its perfect circular base and has become somewhat elliptical with a diameter varying between 31.24 m 102 ft 6 in and 30.86 m 101 ft 3 in.

The dome is carried on pendentives four concave triangular sections of masonry which solve the problem of setting the circular base of a dome on a rectangular base. At Hagia Sophia the weight of the dome passes through the pendentives to four massive piers at the corners. Between them the dome seems to float upon four great arches. These were reinforced with buttresses during Ottoman times, under the guidance of the architect Sinan. At the western and eastern ends, the arched openings are extended by half domes carried on smaller semi-domed exedras.

All interior surfaces are sheathed with polychrome marbles, green and white with purple porphyry and gold mosaics, encrusted upon the brick. This sheathing camouflaged the large pillars, giving them, at the same time, a brighter aspect. On the exterior, simple stuccoed walls reveal the clarity of massed vaults and domes. The yellow and red colour of the exterior was added by the architect Fossati during the restorations in the 19th century.

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