Hagia Sophia – Istanbul
Hagia Sophia, or the Church of the Holy Wisdom, was a former Byzantine church and later became a mosque during the Ottoman empire. The original Hagia Sophia, which was built on this site in the fourth century by Constantine the Great no longer exists. Constantine, the first Christian emperor and the founder of the city of Constantinople, called his city “the New Rome,” and Hagia Sophia was one of many great churches he built throughout his empire.
After the destruction of Constantine’s church, his son Constantius and the emperor Theodosius the Great built a second church. This second church was burned down during the Nika riots of 532, however fragments of it have been excavated and can be seen in Hagia Sophia today. Between 532 – 537, Hagia Sophia was rebuilt in her present form under the personal supervision of Emperor Justinian I. Hagia Sophia is one of the finest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture, rich with mosaics and marble pillars and coverings.
Hagia Sophia was the seat of the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople and a principal setting for church councils and imperial ceremonies for over 900 years. In 1204, the Crusaders sacked and stripped Hagia Sophia of all it precious relics and riches. Much of the stolen riches can be seen today in the treasury of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. In spite of this setback, Hagia Sophia remained a functioning church until May 1453, when Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror entered triumphantly into the city of Constantinople. He was amazed at the beauty of the Hagia Sophia and decided to convert the cathedral into his imperial mosque.
Hagia Sophia served as the principal mosque of Istanbul for almost 500 years and became a model for many of the Ottoman mosques of Istanbul such as the Blue Mosque and the Suleiman Mosque. The addition of a mihrab (prayer niche), minbar (pulpit) and a wooden minaret turned the church into a mosque. Also, all the faces depicted in the church’s mosaics were covered in plaster due to the Islamic prohibition of figurative imagery. Various additions were made over the centuries by successive sultans.
After our visit of Hagia Sophia, we went outside to take snaps of the fountain. Here we were treated to an excellent display of fountainwork.