Brief history,

"The Hagia Sophia enjoyed the status as the largest cathedral in the world for almost a thousand years after it was built, til 1850"
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Home - An Architectural Wonder

An Architectural Wonder

Istanbul, in Turkey, is considered to be one of the most fascinating places of tourist attraction. Located strategically to the west of the Bosporus strait, Istanbul actually bridges the continents of Europe and Asia, and as a result was an important trading center right from olden times. Istanbul is supposed to be steeped in rich and extensive historic and traditional values and cultures and is considered to be an embodiment of Byzantine architecture.

Today, Istanbul is well known as a city that houses some magnificent architectural wonders, chiefly Islamic in nature. This factor has interested lots of historians and other tourists, who literally swarm to the place at all times. It is also a very economical place to enjoy a holiday with sight seeing.

One of the main places of tourist attraction in Istanbul and undoubtedly an architectural wonder of the times is the Hagia Sophia, which actually traces its origins to the Byzantine Empire between 532 AD and 537 AD. The Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya as it is known in Turkish was actually a patriarchal Basilica that has been considered to be an embodiment of Byzantine architecture and also had the distinction of remaining the largest cathedral in the world until 1520. Built on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, its interiors were richly decorated with artistic mosaics depicting various religious scenes and were supported by massive marble pillars.

The magnificent part in the architecture of the Hagia Sophia was its impressive central dome, which had a diameter of 31.24 meters and a height of 55.6 meters. It was miraculously made weightless due to the continuous chain of 40 arched windows under it, which also served to flood the entire interior with sunlight. Moreover, four concave triangular piers at the corners of the base, carries the weight of the dome, and these were reinforced in later times with the help of buttresses. The architecture inside the Hagia Sophia is dominated by breathtaking and colorful polychrome marbles, and gold mosaics, which are encrusted upon brick. This sheathing was also useful in camouflaging the large pillars, as well as to give it a brighter look.

It was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman rule and due credit should be given to the Ottoman Turks, who continued the tradition of the Byzantine architecture. They converted the age old church of Hagia Sophia to a mosque and in the process, removed the various decorations like the bells, alter, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels, typical of Christian churches. The rich and impressive mosaics depicting various Christian images that were seen throughout the church were completely plastered over and instead the Islamic masters adorned the Hagia Sophia with attractive geometrical designs and also made extensive use of expensive colored stones, carved wood craft, gold and mother of pearl. Purely Islamic attributes such as the 'mihrab', 'minbar' and the four 'minarets' outside were added at various stages of the Ottoman rule.

The transition from a Christian patriarchal church to an Islamic mosque was quite impressive and Great architects like Mimar Sinan, who is considered to be the one of the first earthquake engineers of the world, contributed much to the maintenance of the mosque in further years. Sinan built two impressive large minarets at the western end of the building and the mausoleum of Selim II to the southeast of the building in 1577. Later years saw the addition of a minbar to the sultan's gallery and a dais for sermons as well as a loggia for a muezzin.

The Hagia Sophia underwent several alterations and additions and remained an Islamic mosque till 1935, after which it was transformed into a museum by the secular Republic of Turkey.

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