Several years ago I read a book about the Ottoman Empire, one of many that talked about Hagia Sophia. The more I read about it, its history which predates the Ottoman Empire by several centuries, the higher it climb my bucket list.
With just a one day layover in Istanbul starting around 1:00 pm, in which the line to visit Hagia Sophia wasn’t realistic, I made it a point to rise early the next morning to make sure I got to get inside before heading to the airport to come home.
Though the Blue Mosque looks so much more compelling physically, there’s no denying the extraordinary history of Hagia Sophia.
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 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 I and was the third Church of the Holy Wisdom to occupy the site, the previous two having both been destroyed by rioters.
For such a prized possession to be owned by two opposing religions, it’s amazing that new owners continued to keep the previous owners’ artwork and decorations, even as they opposed the others’ religion. There’s a mosaic of the Virgin Mary holding Baby Jesus in the apse high above the mihrab.
Click here for an extremely thorough description at The Virgin and Child mosaic. Seriously, who has that kind of time on their hands to be that detailed!?
Next to the mihrab is the minbar, a pulpit in the mosque where the imam (prayer leader) stands to deliver sermons or in the Hussainia where the speaker sits and lectures the congregation.
As you gaze up at The Virgin and Child mosaic and around the Hagia Sophia, you can’t miss the huge calligraphic roundels. The ones on the left and right of the mihrab say Muhammad and Allah. Other roundels include the first four caliphs Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali, and the two grandchildren of Mohammed: Hassan and Hussain.
There’s calligraphy all around the Hagia Sophia. Beautiful works of art, though I can’t read any of it.
One of the most famous features of the Hagia Sophia is its dome. An architectural masterpiece, especially considering when it was built.
Appearing to support the dome are four seraphims. Amazingly they were covered in layers of plaster for 160 years before anyone knew they were there.
Out in the narthexes [narthex: an antechamber, porch, or distinct area at the western entrance of some early Christian churches, separated off by a railing and used by catechumens, penitents, etc.] there were these interesting pieces:
It is believed that the Empress Irene, wife of Emperor John II, is in this sarcophagus.
In an effort to improve relations with Alexios I Komnenos of the Byzantine Empire, Coloman negotiated the marriage of Piroska to John II Komnenos. John II was the eldest son of Alexios I and Irene Doukaina. He was already co-ruler of his father since September 1092 and was expected to succeed him. The negotiations were successful and Piroska married John in 1104.
Following her conversion to the Eastern Orthodox Church and settlement in Constantinople, Piroska was renamed Irene.
“Ya Fettah” is one of the 99 names of Allah and means “the one who opens the doors of goodness and livelihood and makes things easier”. It is frequently used on the handles of the doors in Ottoman Era. There is a porphyry signature of Sultan Mahmud I inlayed to marble on the east wall of the reading room.
Synodicon (Synode Mecesi Kararlari) in Hagia Sophia is a record of decisions passed by a general synod (a regular supreme religious assembly) that was held at Hagia Sophia in 1166.
Format of the mosaic is semicircular, and it also shows an indication of space. Even though its background’s colour is gold, the low part, containing the characters, is green, therefore marking the ground. The heads of all the characters, including the two emperors, are surrounded by aureolas, thereby classifying the emperors themselves divine, or sacred. The mosaic is realized particularly meticulously, with numerous details on the emperor’s outfits and crowns. Next to them are different inscriptions celebrating their rulership.“This mosaic is not just a mere artistic expression of a certain theme, but it shows a distinct relation of the Church and the Empire with God, who bestows his blessings to the church, the ruler and the state.“.6 Remarking glorious ancestors, and the setup of the Empire’s capital city, and its primary church, signifies the reconstruction of the city and the entire Empire under Basil II.
There are a total 42 sarcophagi in the tomb belong to Sultan Selim II, his wife Nurbanu Sultan, their sons Osman, Mustafa, Suleyman, Cihangir, Abdullah, their daughters Fatma, Istemihan, Hacer and Guherhan and Sultan Murat III’s sons and daughters.