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 - A brief History of Hagia Sophia

A brief History of Hagia Sophia

Popularly known as the strategic place where the 'East' meets the 'West', Istanbul in Turkey, is a historic and fascinating city, which bridges the continents of Europe and Asia. Situated on the west of the Bosporus strait, which is responsible for joining the Black sea and the Sea of Marmara, Istanbul has a diverse history that is packed with tradition and ethnicity of its various conquerors.

Istanbul is supposed to have been inhabited right from the primitive times, and excavations conducted in that place have unearthed several evidences, that date it somewhere between 5500 BC and 3500 BC. Records also point to the fact that the modern Istanbul was actually a small Thracian fishing village called Semista in 1000BC, which also had a port by name of Lygos.

By 667 BC, a Greek ruler by name of Byzas, from Megara, established his kingdom here, on the advice of an oracle of Delphi, and named it Byzantium. But it was besieged by the Romans in AD 196, and became part of the Roman Empire. The ravaged city was rebuilt by the Roman Emperor, Septimus Severus, and temporarily given the name of 'Augusta Antonina'. But in 306 AD, Emperor Constantine the Great made Byzantium the capital of the entire Roman Empire, and from then on, the city was called Constantinople. The Byzantium Empire was more or less influenced by Greek culture, and was also a hub of Greek Orthodox Christianity, which resulted in the construction of several magnificent Christian architectural wonders, the prominent among them being the Hagia Sophia, which remained the world's largest cathedral till 1850.

The Roman Empire passed through much turmoil due to attack from various sources, especially the Barbarians, not to mention their internal problems, and finally, in 532 AD, during the reign of Justinian I, the city was totally destroyed due to anti government riots. Though much favored for its ideal location, that made trade and transport between continents an easy affair, this very factor also proved to be the doom of Constantinople. For several hundred years hence, it had to face a lot of assault from the Arabs, Nomadic, Persians, as well as the Fourth crusaders, who periodically occupied it.

At last, in 1453, Constantinople was attacked and conquered by the courageous Ottoman Turks led by Sultan Mehmet II, who renamed it Istanbul. It continued to function not just as an important cultural, political and commercial hub, but also as their main centre for military operations too, till World War I, after which it was occupied by the Allies.

Sultan Mehmet II was supposed to have given the city a cosmopolitan social outlook. After deporting the remaining Byzantine population, a great many changes were made to the existing architecture in general. The old world Christian city was gradually transformed into a Muslim conurbation as the Emperor started rebuilding all churches so as to convert them to mosques. The great mosque and the Fatih College were built on the old burial grounds of the erstwhile Byzantine Emperors at the Church of the Holy Apostles. The Hagia Sophia too was converted to a mosque. But to his credit, the Sultan held a cosmopolitan outlook and for the greater part, allowed people of all faiths to settle in the vast city, and made effective use of their varied skills. Tolerance was a great virtue that was practiced by Sultan Mehmet II, and it was reflected all over the empire.Istanbul acquired a status of great importance in the eyes of all Muslims, after the conquest of Egypt, and its glory increased from leaps and bounds in the hands of its various rulers, many of whom were great patrons of art and architecture.

Although the capital of Turkey was changed from Istanbul to Ankara by Kemal Ataturk, in 1923, Istanbul still retained its attractions and continued to expand majestically. But gradually, due to the mass exodus of the various nationalities, especially after the war between Greece and Turkey, it became a prominent Muslim nation.

The many historic monuments of yesteryears, that are to be found there, like the various museums, castles, palaces, mosques, churches, etc contribute greatly to the increase in the tourism industry today. In fact, many of its historic architectures have been added to the UNESCO's list of world heritage sites. Though no more a capital city, Istanbul, which is considered to be Turkey's cultural and financial center, still retains its old world attraction and continues to generate its own individual history through out the ages.

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