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 - The imperial gallery

The imperial gallery

Istanbul, in Turkey, is home to a fantastic piece of architecture, The Hagia Sophia, which dates back to centuries! Traced back to the Byzantine Empire, the Hagia Sophia, of Ayasofia as it is known in Turkish, is one a real piece of brilliant construction, that has played a variety of roles as age demanded. It has strongly withstood the ravages of time, caused by both natural and manmade calamities as well as several conquests down the ages, and has proudly emerged out the winner.

The Hagia Sophia was incidentally built as a church by Emperor Constantinus-2 in 360 AD, and it remained so till 404 AD, when it was razed to the ground during mob frenzy. It was rebuilt to grander proportions in 405 AD by Thodosius - 2, to once again face destruction on account of the 'Nika Revolt', which resulted in almost half of Istanbul being burnt down.

The third revival of the Hagia Sophia was in the hands of Emperor Justinian, who did a magnificent job of it. Designed and constructed with meticulous calculation, it easily surpassed most other churches in beauty and splendor. But due to a devastating earthquake in 989 AD, that caused a lot of damage in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophya too came crumbling down. Due credit should be given to the Byzantine government who invited 'Trdat', the famous architect from Armenia to reconstruct the church and build it back to its famous glory, where it remained for a long time to come.

Although the Byzantine Empire gave way to the Ottoman Empire, which came about by 1453, the Hagia Sophia still continued to be protected and respected. But the Christian church was converted to an Islamic mosque in accordance with the faith of the Ottoman Sultans. Many of the rulers like Mehmud I, Sultan Abdulla Mecid, Mustaffa Kemal Pasha, etc did massive extension and modification work to the building. The Hagia Sophya was at last converted to a museum that showcased the various developmental works down the ages.

One of the remarkable features that the Hagia Sophia boasted of was the magnificent Upper Imperial Gallery with its fantastic mosaics and marble decorations. The central part of the upper gallery was reserved for the Empress and the other women of her court, who could sit there and view the proceedings down below in a discreet manner. As a result it was also known as the Loge of the Empress.

The Imperial gallery, which was reserved exclusively for the Empress and her consorts, was once decorated splendidly with breathtaking and colorful mosaics, during the Byzantine rule. Infact most of the breathtaking mosaics of the Hagia Sophia can be seen in the Upper galleries. Some of the most magnificent mosaics were the Emperor Alexander mosaic, Empress Zoe mosaics depicting Christ Pantocrator, the Comnenos mosaic featuring the Virgin Mary and Baby Christ, The Deesis (Entreaty) mosaic which marked the end of 57 years of Roman Catholic use and the return to the Orthodox faith, and the Northern Tympanun mosaic that featured several saints. But during the reign of the Ottoman Turks, when the Church was converted to a mosque, most of these beautiful mosaics in the Upper Imperial Gallery were plastered over and redecorated with Islam style wooden inlays, intricate geometric patterns, and precious stones.

From the 20th century onwards, massive restoration works are in progress in the Hagia Sophia, where experts are trying to uncover the ancient mosaics, simultaneously, preserving the magnificent Islam craftsmanship too, thereby creating a sort of balance between the both.

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