HAGIA SOPHIA MUSEM
Hagia Sophia, which is considered as one of the eight wonders of the world, also occupies a prominent place in the history of art and architecture. It is one of the rare works of this size and age that has survived to our day. The church (called Ayasofya in Turkish) is erroneously known as Saint Sophia in the west. The basilica was not dedicated to a saint named Sophia, but to Divine Wisdom.
This was the site of a pagan temple, and the three separate basilicas built here in different times were all called by the same name. Although no churches were built during the reign of Constantine the Great, some sources maintain that the first Hagia Sophia basilica was built by him. Actually, the first small basilica with a wooden roof was constructed in the second half of the 4th century by Constantinius, the son of Constantine the Great.
This church burnt during the riots in 404, and a second and larger basilica that replaced it was inaugurated in 415. During the bloody uprising of 532 that broke out at a chariot race in the Hippodrome, ten thousands of the inhabitants of the city were killed and numerous building destroyed.
The Hagia Sophia church was among the structures burnt during this so-called "Nika" revolt which was directed against Emperor Justinian.
When Justinian finally suppressed the revolt, he decided to build a house of worship "the like of which has not been seen since Adam, nor will it be seen in the future." Construction started in 532 over the remains of the previous basilica and it was completed in five years. In the year 537, elaborate ceremonies were organized for the dedication of this largest church of Christendom. The emperor spared no expense for his church and placed the state treasury at the disposal of the architects, Antheius of Tralles and mathematician Isidorus of Miletus. The design of the dome followed in the tradition of Roman architecture, and the plan of the basilica was even older. Round buildings had been successfully covered with domes before. But in Hagia Sophia, Justinian was attempting for the first time in the history of architecture to build a gigantic central dome over a rectangular plan.
Priests kept intoning prayers throughout the construction. Marbles and columns taken from the remains of earlier eras from almost all parts of the empire were used for building material. Later many esoteric stories were invented to explain the origin of these materials, particularly the columns, which were gathered from such far ranging sources.
During the reign of Justinian, Hagia Sophia was a manifestation of refinement and pomp, but in later eras it turned into a legend and a symbol.
Because of its dimensions which could not be surpassed for the next thousand years and the financial and technical difficulties involved in its construction, people believed that such a building could not have been achieved without the assistance of supernatural powers. Although Hagia Sophia is a 6th century Byzantine work, it is an "experiment" in the Roman architectural tradition that has neither a predecessor nor a duplicate. The contrast between the interior and the exterior and the large dome are legacies of Rome. The outer appearance is not elegant; it was built as a shell, without much care for proportions. On the other hand, the interior is as splendid and captivating as a palace. As a whole, it is an "imperial" structure.
During the dedication ceremony, the emperor could not suppress his excitement. He entered the church in a chariot, thanked God, and shouted that he had outdone King Solomon.
The basilica developed into a large religious center with tall buildings surrounding it. The scene was now set for the clashes between the Byzantine emperors and the Eastern Church that would last for centuries.
Despite its uniqueness and magnificence, the structure has some vital faults. The most important problem was the enormous size of the dome and the pressure it exerted on the side walls. The architectural elements necessary for transmitting the weight of such a dome to the foundations were not fully developed at that time.
In time the side walls kept leaning outwards and the original low dome collapsed in 558. The second dome to be constructed was much higher and reduced in diameter, but almost half of this dome also collapsed twice, in the 10th and 14th centuries. Vast sums were spent in all ages for the upkeep of Hagia Sophia. The immediate restorations undertaken after the Turkish conquest in 1453 to convert it into a mosque saved this beautiful building. Among the major restorations at later times were the buttresses built by Turkish architect Sinan in the 16th century, the restoration by the Fossafi brothers in mid-19th century, and the repairs including the fortification of the dome with iron bands after 1930. Existing modern portable metal scaffolding will make future restoration work easier.
After serving two different religions with the same god, 916 years as a church and 477 years as a mosque, Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum on Ataturk's orders. Between 1930 and 1935 the whitewash on the walls was cleaned to reveal mosaics, which are among the most important examples of Byzantine art.
A TOUR OF THE MUSEUM
The entrance to the museum from the courtyard is the original west gate, which has now been put to use again after centuries. Next to the entrance is the remains of the earlier (the second) basilica. Those who were not baptized could only enter to the outer nartexs, from which five doors give entrance to the inner narthex (porch), and from here nine more doors lead into the nave.
The tall door in the middle was the Imperial Entrance. The mosaic panel above the door dates to end-9th century. In the center of the panel Christ the Pantocrator (Almighty) sits on a throne and an emperor pleads him for divine mercy. One of the two roundels on both sides depicts Virgin Mary and the other Archangel Gabriel. The non-figurative mosaics on the ceiling of the inner narthex and the side naves are from the time of Justinian.
An overwhelmingly magnificent nave welcomes the visitor. The dome makes itself felt from the very first step. It gives the impression of being suspended in the air and covers the entire space. The walls and the ceilings are covered with marble and mosaics, creating a colorful appearance. The three different tones of color observed in the mosaic decorations of the dome indicate three different restorations. It is still one of the largest domes in the world with its height and diameter. Due to later restorations, the 55.60 meter high dome is not perfectly round. Its diameter measures 31.87 m from north to south and 30.87 m from east to west. Four winged angels with their faces covered decorate the four pendentives which support the dome. The wide rectangular central space, measuring 74.67 x 69.80 m, is divided from the dark side naves by columns. There are altogether 107 columns on the ground floor and the galleries. The marble column capitals of Hagia Sophia are the most characteristic and distinctive examples of the 6th century classical Byzantine decorative art in the building. The deep carvings on the marble, in typical medieval style, produce impressive effects of light and shadow. In the center there are imperial monograms.
The antique porphyry columns in the corners, the central columns of green Salonika marble, and the richly decorated white marble capitals on all columns take the visitor back to ancient times.
To appreciate Hagia Sophia fully, one should try to look at it not just as an empty museum, but as the magnificent and mystical church or mosque it once was. While it was the mother church of a great empire, the section in front of the apse, the altar, the ambo (pulpit) and the ceremonial objects were all plated in gold and silver and decorated with ivory and jewels. Even some of the doors were covered with such precious metals. The Latin invaders of the 4th Crusade tore all of these down and carried them to Europe, together with some architectural fragments.
A mosaic panel depicting the Christ-Child and the Virgin decorates the conch of the apse. Another angels figure on the opposite wall has not survived intact.
The huge leather medallions, 7.5 in in diameter, hanging from the walls at gallery level and the inscriptions on the dome remind us of its days as a mosque.
These are the works of master calligraphers of the mid-19th century. The medallions contain the word "Allah" and the names of Prophet Mohammed, the first four caliphs, and Hasan and Huseyin, the grandchildren of the prophet. The mihrab in the apse, the stained glass windows over the mihrab and minber, the raised platform for the chanters are Turkish additions.
On the floor of the nave, there is a square area paved with colored marble pieces. Emperors used to be crowned here and it dates probably to the 12th century.
Two round urns made of high quality marble are placed on each side of the entrance to the central nave. These antique urns were brought from Pergamum in the 16th century.
In the northern corner of the church is the "sweating column". A bronze belt encircles the lower section and there is a hole big enough to insert a finger. There are many legends and stories about the column. A ramp inside the first northern buttress gives access to the upper galleries. The magnificent central nave looks completely different when seen trom the galleries surrounding the three sides.
In the galleries there were sections reserved for the ladies of the imperial family and the meetings of the church council. In the northern wing there is a mosaic panel, and there are three panels, each with groups of three figures, in the southern wing.
In the southern gallery the light from a window nearby illuminates a masterpiece of Byzantine mosaic art. The panel, called "Deesis", represents the last judgment and is a composition of three figures: Jesus is seen in the center, flanked by the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. The unusual arrangement of the mosaics in the background highlights the beauty of the figures, and the facial expressions are extremely realistic.
At the far end of the southern gallery a panel from the 12th century depicts the Virgin Mary and Christ-Child, the Emperor Comnenus II, and the Empress Eirene, while the panel on the side wall portrays the ailing Prince Alexius. The racial features of the Empress, who was of Hungarian origin, i.e. her light complexion and hair, can be clearly distinguished.
In a second panel here, Christ is seated on the throne and beside him stand the Empress Zoe and her third husband Constantine Monomachos. The mosaic originally depicted the first husband of Zoe, but the face and the inscription above were redone to suit Constantine. In this panel, the offerings of the members of the royal family, a pouch and a scroll symbolize their donations to the church.
The large panel seen while leaving the inner narthex is from the 10th century. The figures with distorted perspectives represent the Virgin and the Christ-Child in the center, with Constantine the Great offering a model of the city on the right, and Justinian offering a model of Hagia Sophia on the left. The huge bronze doors at the exit that are partially embedded in the floor are from the 2nd century BC and were probably brought here from a pagan temple in Tarsus.
In the garden of the museum there are Turkish buildings from various periods, such as the tombs of sultans, a school, the clock-winding house and the ablution fountain. The minarets on the eastern side were added in the 15th century and those on the west side in the 16th century.