Hagia Sophia was once built by Roman emperors as a Christian church. After the conquest of Constantinople, it was converted into a mosque and today functions as a museum and is also one of Istanbul's most popular tourist attractions.
The world-famous Hagia Sophia is located in Istanbul in western Turkey, right opposite the equally impressive Sultan Ahmed Mosque ("Blue Mosque"). It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985 and is one of our top 10 sights in Turkey. The Hagia Sophia, translated as "Holy Wisdom", was originally built as a Roman Catholic church and also called the "Church of St. Sophia".
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PICTURES: Hagia Sophia in Istanbul
Emergence of the Hagia Sophia as a Catholic Church
In Constantinople, the construction of a monumental church began under Emperor Kontantin I. It was burnt down during an uprising and rebuilt in the 6th century. The Emperor Justinian, who was reigning at the time, was instructed in a dream to "found a church which has not existed since Adam's time and which will never exist again".
He stuck to that. The Hagia Sophia was the largest church in Christendom for over a millennium. Due to its ingeniously constructed seemingly free-floating dome, which set new standards in architecture, it was even called the eighth wonder of the world.
It was precisely this dome that caused the architects great difficulties even back then. With its enormous dimensions of 32m width and 55m height, it collapsed time and again, especially during earthquakes. To this day, this problem has not been completely solved.
Together with UNESCO and the Society for Geophysical Surveys in Karlsruhe, the Hagia Sophia is being monitored by the Turkish government using state-of-the-art technology so that rapid intervention can be taken in the event of a threat.
The transformation into a mosque
In 1453, the then Sultan Mehmed II motivated his soldiers by promising them that they could loot Constantinople for three days after the conquest. Constantinople fell and the Sultan kept his word. On the same day, 29 May, the same fate befell the huge Church of St. Sophia. The worshippers present were killed, the place of worship looted and the Sultan consecrated the church as a mosque through a Muslim prayer at the altar.
In the following years, the altars were destroyed, bells, Christian icons and mosaics were removed or whitewashed, crosses were replaced by the crescent moon and the four minarets were gradually erected. The transformation into the main Ottoman mosque was complete.
The Hagia Sophia today
Hagia Sophia remains one of the most important architectural masterpieces of late antiquity, its immense dimensions transporting the visitor to higher spheres.
However, it no longer serves as a place of worship but was converted into a museum on the advice of President Atatürk, where not only the unique architecture but also mosaics and marble ornaments from the 9th century can still be seen. The title of Istanbul's main mosque thus went to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque opposite, better known as the "Blue Mosque".
Anyone who enters the interior under the enormous dome of the Hagia Sophia is indeed amazed by the ingenious roof construction. Sunlight falls through the columns at the base of the dome, which actually gives the dome a floating impression. The mystical light is intentional - it symbolises the presence of God. Hardly anyone can escape this awe-inspiring atmosphere.