Hagia Sophia: History, Construction, Facts, Significance and More

Hagia Sophia is a domed monument built as a cathedral in Constantinople in the sixth century A.D. and is 1,400 years old. The structure has served as a cathedral, mosque and lastly as a museum.
Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia is a domed monument built as a cathedral in Constantinople in the sixth century A.D. Hagia Sophia means 'holy wisdom'. The structure consists of two floors, a great dome ceiling, along with smaller domes, towering above.

The structure is 1,400 years old and has served as a cathedral, mosque and lastly as a museum. However, on Friday, Turkey’s top administrative court ruled that Istanbul’s grandest monument will no longer be treated as a museum. 

The monument was built as a Church by Justinian I in the sixth century. In 1453, Ottoman Sultan, Mehmet converted the monument into a mosque. In 1934, the mosque was converted into a museum by Kamal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish republic. This was done to fade out the memory of World War I from Turkey and the affection for the Ottoman Empire. 

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Hagia Sophia: History 

In A.D. 532, the construction of the structure began as a result of Nika riots. At that time, Emperor Justinian I ruled the area for 5 years and became infamous due to the high taxes that he imposed. The riot was an attempt to throw out Justinian by besieging him in his palace. Thus, in the wake of these revolts, a new Church was built on the site of a torched church named Hagia Sophia. 

Hagia Sophia: Construction

To build the cathedral, Justinian contacted two architects named Anthemius and Isidore the Elder. The monument was built in less than 6 years. However, the builders faced a problem in building the dome roof. The dome used a system of piers to channel its weight. However, two decades later, the roof collapsed but withstands to date with some repairs. The structure has 40 windows for the sunlight to emanate. 

The structure has two floors-- ground floor and a gallery above it. This was to segregate the people based on gender and class they belonged to. To enter the cathedral’s nave from the narthex there are nine doorways. 

Hagia Sophia: Conversion to the mosque

In 1453, Mehmed II, sultan of the Ottoman Empire took over the Byzantine Empire and was converted into a mosque. Hagia Sophia underwent the phase of construction again with four minarets more than 200 feet tall-- one of the tallest minarets ever constructed.

Hagia Sophia: Present-day museum

In 1934, Kamal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish republic secularized the structure and turned it into a museum. As per Turkish Council of Ministers, 'Due to its historical significance, the conversion of the mosque into a museum will please the entire Eastern world and its conversion to a museum will cause humanity to gain a new institution of knowledge. 

Hagia Sophia: Timeline of Events 

360 – Inauguration of Hagia Sophia, under the rule of Constantius II.
404 – The original roof was destroyed in a fire during unrest generated by Patriarch John Chrysostom and Aelia Eudoxia, wife of Arcadius.
415 – Restored and rededicated by Theodosius II.
532 – Burned down once again in the Nika riots beginning in the Hippodrome of Constantinople. 
537 – The reconstruction was completed with the lavish decorations and ornaments.
553 – An earthquake shook Hagia Sophia, weakening the crown of Eastern arch.
558 – Another earthquake hit, causing a break between the two halves. A few months after, the main dome collapsed alongside the eastern semi-dome. 
562 – Reconstruction of Hagia Sophia was completed.
726 – Hagia Sophia was stripped of figural illustrations and sculptural work with the abolition of veneration of icons by Leo III (Byzantine Iconoclasm).
787 – Veneration of icons was re-instituted by the Second Council of Nicaea by Empress Irene and her son Constantine VI.
814 – The Council of Constantinople was held in Hagia Sophia led by Patriarch Theodotus I, reestablishing Iconoclasm.
843 – The "Triumph of Orthodoxy", Empress Theodora, widow of the late Emperor Theophilos, abolished Iconoclasm, commenced the redecoration of Hagia Sophia.
859 – Fire damaged the Hagia Sophia.
869 – Another earthquake caused a half dome to collapse.
989 – Another massive earthquake caused the collapse of the western dome.
994 – Hagia Sophia was reopened after reconstruction took place.
1204 – Hagia Sophia became a Roman Catholic Cathedral after the Sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade.
1261 – Hagia Sophia converted to an Eastern Orthodox Church again with the end of the Latin Empire and the recovery of Constantinople by the Empire of Nicaea under Michael VIII Palaiologos.
1344 – An earthquake caused severe damage throughout the striation.
1346 – Various parts of the building collapsed and the church was closed.
1354 – Hagia Sophia reopened after construction.
1453 – Following the fall of Constantinople, Mehmed the Conqueror orders the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque in accordance with the right of the sword.
1573 – The exterior was significantly strengthened and altered to follow the customary mosque appearance.
1717 – Renovations on the interior began.
1734 – Hagia Sophia had additions to restorations, such as the building of a library and a Quranic school.
1847 – The structure underwent another restoration.
1849 – The mosque was reopened.
1934 – Founding President of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's cabinet approves his decision to change the building's function to a museum.
1935 – The building reopened as a museum.
2020 – The decision to convert the Hagia Sophia to a museum was annulled by the Council of State; the Turkish President signs a decree converting it into a working mosque.

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