Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Istanbul 2014 - Hagia Sophia

Date of visit: 6th April 2014

1477 year old Hagia Sophia basilica turned mosque turned museum as seen from the Blue Mosque

We straightaway adjourned to Hagia Sophia from the exit of the Blue Mosque. It was quite a very long queue considering 6th April was a public holiday, Sunday. At the queue lines we met quite a number of Malaysian family on a visit like we do. It was nice to meet other Malaysian. As soon as we paid our entrance fee, we decided to mark our visit by firstly having a Turkish coffee at the Hagia Sophia courtyard. 

May we stay best friend forever, Anne

Hagia Sophia is called Ayasofya in Turkish, situated in Istanbul formerly a city of Constantinople. It was design by a Greek Byzantine scientist, Isidore of Miletus (a physicist) and Anthemius of Tralles (a mathematician) in 532, was completed in 537. The 1477 year old Hagia Sophia is a former Greek Orthodox patriarchal basilica (church), later an imperial mosque, and now a museum. From the date of its construction in 537 until 1453, it served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire. The building was a mosque from 29 May 1453 until 1931. It was then secularized and opened as a museum on 1 February 1935.

Virgin Mary and Child flanked by Justinian I and Constantine I in the above mosaic wall. I was lucky to return and had second round (memorable) photo in the same spot

The Church was dedicated to the Wisdom of God, the Logos (where the Trinity concept derives from the opening of the Gospel of John, which is often simply translated into English as: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." In the translations, "Word" is used for Logos, but in theological discourse, this is often left untranslated). The Logos was misinterpreted by the Roman as the second person of the Holy Trinity, its patronal feast taking place on 25 December, the commemoration of the Birth of the incarnation of the Logos in Christ. I strongly opined that this is the point where the real teaching of Jesus Christ has been misled and wrongly teach.

Interior view of the Hagia Sophia, showing Islamic elements on the top of the main dome.
The mihrab located in the apse where the altar used to stand, pointing towards Mecca

Sophia in Latin word means wisdom; hence, the basilica sometimes referred to as Sancta Sophia with its full name in Greek is "Shrine of the Holy Wisdom of God". Famous in particular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have "changed the history of architecture". It remained the world's largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral in Andalusia Spain was completed in 1520. The current building was originally constructed as a church between 532 and 537 on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian and was the third Church of the Holy Wisdom to occupy the site, the previous 2 was destroyed by rioters.


I stand next to 1 out of 2 huge marble lustration (ritual purification) urns (vase) brought from Pergamon during the reign of Sultan Murad III. Stemming from the Hellenistic period, they are carved from single blocks of marble
In 1453, when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks, Sultan Mehmed II has ordered this main church of the Orthodox Christianity converted into a mosque. By this point, the Church had fallen into a state of disrepair. Nevertheless, the Christian cathedral made a strong impression on the new Ottoman rulers and they decided to convert it into a mosque. The bells, altar, wall of icons and sacrificial vessels and other relics were removed and the mosaics depicting Jesus, his Mother Mary, Christian saints and angels were also removed or plastered over. Islamic features such as the mihrab, mimbar and 4 minarets were added. It remained a mosque until 1931 when it was closed to the public for four years. 

The interior of the dome undergoing restoration

In 1935, the first Turkish President and founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, transformed the building into a museum. The carpets were removed and the marble floor decorations such as the Omphalion appeared for the first time in centuries, while the white plaster covering many of the mosaics was removed. Nevertheless, the condition of the structure deteriorated, and the World Monuments Fund placed Hagia Sophia on 1996 World Monuments Watch, and again in 1998.

The imperial mosque once

From its initial conversion until the construction of the nearby larger Sultan Ahmed Blue Mosque of Istanbul in 1616, Hagia Sophia was the principal mosque of Istanbul. It served as inspiration for many other Ottoman mosques beside the Blue Mosque and the Suleymaniye Mosque.

Fountain (Şadırvan) for ritual ablutions

Important notes: 

  1. The present Hagia Sophia was the 3rd church built by the Byzantine. The 1st church on the site was known as the Great Church, in Latin "Magna Ecclesia inaugurated on 15 February 360 during the reign of Constantius II. The 2nd church was ordered by Theodosius II, who inaugurated it on 10 October 415, built with a wooden roof by architect Rufinus. A fire started during the tumult of the Nika Revolt and burned the second Hagia Sophia to the ground on 13–14 January 532.
  2. On 23 February 532, only a few weeks after the destruction of the second basilica, Emperor Justinian I decided to build a third and entirely different basilica, larger and more majestic than its predecessors. The emperor had material brought from all over the empire, i.e. Hellenistic columns from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, large stones from quarries in porphyry from Egypt, green marble from Thessaly, black stone from the Bosporus region, and yellow stone from Syria. More than ten thousand people were employed.
  3. Hagia Sophia was the seat of the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople and a principal setting for Byzantine imperial ceremonies, such as coronations. Like other churches throughout Christendom, the basilica offered sanctuary from persecution to outlaws. 

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