Nobel Prize laureate, Peal S Buck once said, “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” This is why before having an opinion on something, it’s important to know its history. One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Hagia Sophia plays an important role in Turkey’s history. Let’s shed some light on it!
The Hagia Sophia was originally built by the Roman emperor Justinian as the Church of the Holy Wisdom. To build his majestic basilica, Justinian hired physicist Isidore and mathematician Anthemius as the architects to design it. In 537C, the doom completion was done by more than 10,000 men in a record time of just 5 years, 10 months and 4 days. Amazing, right? About 40 windows allow sunlight to spread over the interior and irradiate the gold mosaics, producing a jaw dropping scene. The Hagia Sophia has been standing now for nearly 1500 years. Yes, that’s right. That is what you just read, no need to rub your eyes and to reread it.
In 1453, Constantinople fell to the Ottomans when Sultan Mehmet captured the city. As per his orders the rulers decided to convert it into a mosque. Four minarets each 60 meter tall were added outside the church. However, the Sultan’s admiration for the interior caused him to only cover certain, church-related, symbols after the conversion. The space functioned as a mosque until 1935, when the first Turkish president and founder of the Republic of Turkey Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, known for his secular mindset, transformed it into a museum where people of all religions visit it to get inspired from its mosaics and artifacts. Where else would anyone get a chance to experience Islamic calligraphic roundels with Arabic script bearing the names of Allah and Muhammad in the same place as with Christian mosaics including those of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Saint John Chrysostom?
Hagia Sophia is a kind of place where even the floors, walls and doors have tales to tell which make them so special. The largest door in Hagia Sophia is called the Imperial Gate which was reserved for the entrance of the Byzantine emperor and their families. According to a story, it is made from Noah Ark’s wood. The circular marble slabs mark the Omphalos, the site where the Byzantine emperors were crowned.
Did you know that there are 30 million gold tiles present throughout its interior? Amazing isn’t it! But please don’t faint just yet, because there is more to it. I found ‘The Weeping Column’ very interesting; Justinian I had a belief that if you stick your thumb into a small hole in a copper facing of the ‘weeping column’ and if the thumb becomes moist, you will be cured of all the aliments. Really, is getting cured that easy? I leave it up to you!
In recent years, Hagia Sophia has been subject of debate among the Islamist and Secularist groups in Turkey. In late April, on the occasion of the exhibition called “Love of the Prophet”, the Quran was recited by a Muslim cleric for the first time after 85 years.Whether it remains as a museum or will be re-converted to a mosque is something that remains a question mark…
What is clear is that this magnificent place is a must visit. Standing in the center of the church, looking up at breath taking interior and thinking of all emperors and sultans who once stood exactly at the same place will leave you speechless. If you ever plan to go Istanbul, believe me you don’t want to miss a chance to visit Hagia Sophia, one of the most glorious buildings in human history.
From this moment on, another chapter in the Hagia Sophia’s life begins, once the new Ottoman rulers they decided the conversion of the church into a mosque. Outside the church, four minarets would eventually be added but changes also occurred in the interior. The mosaics were hidden under yellow paint and the monograms of the four caliphs were added to the four pillars of the main dome.
The present-day Hagia Sophia museum was formed in 1934, when the government of Turkey proceeded to the secularization of the church turning it into a museum.
Photo Credits: Christopher Chan