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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Hagia Sophia is considered to be one among the greatest man-made wonders in the world. Initially constructed as a church during the early Byzantine rule, it withstood the ravages of time to become the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years. When the Ottoman Turks captured Istanbul, the church was converted to a regal mosque. It was in 1935 Mustafa Kemal Ataturk went ahead and transformed the Hagia Sophia into a marvelous museum, which reflected several attributes of both Christianity and Islam down the ages.

One of the greatest surviving architectural wonders of the Byzantine period, the spacious interiors of the Hagia Sophia was decorated artistically with huge marble pillars, priceless mosaics and other coverings. Under Justinian's orders eight Corinthian columns were shipped to Constantinople after being disassembled from Baalbek.

The complex interiors of the Hagia Sophia consists of a nave covered by a massive dome that is 31.24 meters in diameter and at a height of 55.6 meters from the ground. Colorful light enters the nave by means of 40 arched windows that seem to support the dome.

The interiors of this unrivalled architectural masterpiece were covered with polychrome marbles that were green and white, with gold mosaics and purple porphyry encrusted on the bricks that resulted in giving the whole area a brighter and colorful aspect, simultaneously covering the huge pillars. Typical of the 6th century classical Byzantine decorative art, the marble columns form the most distinguishing part of the decorative interiors of the impressive building. The huge bronze doors seen at the exit are supposed to be from the 2nd century BC which was in all probability brought to Istanbul from a pagan temple in Tarsus.

During Justinian's reign, abstract marble designs formed the main object of interior decoration along with various mosaics. The two archangels Gabriel and Michaes depicted in marble are still to be seen there. The area in front of the apse, the altar, the ambo (pulpit) and the various ceremonial objects were all richly covered in gold and silver and decorated with ivory and other precious jewels. The impressive gallery was full of patterns and figures of flowers and birds in white marble set against a background of black marble. In later stages figurative mosaics were also added to the collection of the Hagia Sophia. An awesome mosaic panel that pictures Virgin Mary with Christ decorates the conch of the apse. Various other mosaic panels that depicted other religious instances were seen in other parts of the interior of the Hagia Sophia.

Apart from the mosaics, a large number of figurative decorations like an image of Christ in the central dome; figures of saints, prophets etc in the typmana below, and several other figures were added later.

But the Ottoman rule witnessed the Hagia Sophia being converted to a mosque. Two round jars, carved from a single block of marble each, and supposed to have been brought from Pergamum in the 16th century, were impressively placed on each side of the entrance to the central nave. A minbar decorated with marble, a dais for sermons and a loggia for the muezzin were added at later stages of the Ottoman rule. The transformation from the medieval church to the splendid mosque resulted in the Muslim rulers ordering all the mosaics that depicted various Christian beliefs to be plastered over. In some places, attractive geometric designs and intricate wooden carvings typical of Islam architecture were crafted and embellished with ivory and other precious stones. The old chandeliers were replaced by new pendant ones. The walls were decorated by means of gigantic circular framed disks inscribed with the names of Allah, Prophet Mohammed, the first four caliphs Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali, and the two grandchildren of Mohammed, Hassan and Hussain.

It was in 1934 that the Republic of Turkey was formed and Kemal Ataturk, the first Turkish President, ordered the conversion of the church turned mosque to a museum, that has remained open for all.

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