History of the Construction of Hagia Sophia


Hagia Sophia or in its full form, the former Church of Hagia Sophia, now also known as the Holy Mosque of Hagia Sophia, is a famous house of worship located in Istanbul that has survived as a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral, a Roman Catholic cathedral, an Ottoman mosque, and a secular museum. Recently, the site has been reclassified as a mosque by the President of Turkey. Hagia Sophia is not, in fact, the only name that the construction has adopted. Several different names are associated with this monument: Ayasofya in Turkish, Sancta Sophia in Latin, and Holy Wisdom or Divine Wisdom in English.


The Hagia Sophia was initially constructed as a basilica for the Greek Orthodox Christian Church. Nevertheless, its use has changed many times in the centuries since.

At the time of the early church’s creation, Istanbul was recognized as Constantinople, taking its name from Constantius’ father, Constantine I, the first ruler of the Byzantine Empire.

In 440, Socrates of Constantinople wrote that the church was erected by Constantius II, who was working on it in 346. A story which is not older than the 7th or 8th century, says that the building was built by Constantine the Great. Zonaras adjusts the two opinions, writing that Constantius had repaired the building dedicated by Eusebius of Nicomedia after it had collapsed. Since Eusebius was bishop of Constantinople from 339 to 341, and Constantine died in 337, it seems likely that the first church was erected by the latter. The building was constructed as a legendary Latin colonnaded basilica with galleries and a wooden roof. An atrium preceded it. It was considered to be one of the world’s most prominent monuments at the time.

The Patriarch of Constantinople John Chrysostom came into a dispute with Empress Aelia Eudoxia, wife of the emperor Arcadius, and was sent into jail on 20 June 404. During the following riots, this first church was mostly burned down.

A second church on the site was commanded by Theodosius II, who initiated it on 10 October 415. The basilica with a wooden roof was constructed by architect Rufinus. A fire started during the Nika Revolt’s tumult and blazed the second Hagia Sophia to the ground in January 532.

Numerous marble blocks from the second church survive to the present, with reliefs depicting 12 lambs depicting the 12 apostles. Formerly part of a monumental front entrance, they now live in a mining pit adjacent to the museum’s entrance after they were found in 1935 beneath the western courtyard by the German archaeologist Alfons Maria Schneider. Further digging was banned for fear of intruding on the uprightness of the building.

On 23 February 532, only a few days after the destruction of the second basilica, Emperor Justinian I chose to build a third and entirely different basilica, more massive and grander than its ancestors.

Justinian chose mathematician and engineer Isidore of Miletus and mathematician Anthemius of Tralles as architects; Anthemius died within the first year of the endeavor. The construction is illustrated in the Byzantine historian Procopius’ On Buildings. Columns and other marbles were carried from all over the empire throughout the Mediterranean. This new church was contemporaneously perceived as a significant work of architecture. The theories of Heron of Alexandria may have been utilized to address the challenges presented by building such an open dome over such an ample space.

Earthquakes in 553 and 557 created cracks in the central dome and eastern half-dome. The central dome deflated utterly during a subsequent earthquake on 7 May 558, slaughtering the ambon, altar, and ciborium. The collapse was mainly due to the high bearing load and the enormous shear load of the dome, which was too flat. These induced the deformation of the piers which sustained the dome. The emperor ordered an urgent restoration. He assigned the task to Isidorus the Younger, nephew of Isidore of Miletus, who used thinner materials and elevated the dome by “30 feet”– providing the building its current interior height of 55.6 meters (182 ft). Moreover, Isidorus changed the dome type, erecting a ribbed dome with pendentives with a diameter of 32.7 and 33.5 m.

Under Justinian’s orders, eight Corinthian columns were dismantled from Baalbek, Lebanon, and shipped to Constantinople around 560. This repair, giving the church its present 6th-century form, was completed in 562. The Byzantine poet Paul the Silentiary wrote a long epic poem, known as Ekphrasis, for the rededication of the basilica managed by Patriarch Eutychius in 562.


Constantinople fell to the invading Ottoman forces on 29 May 1453. Following the traditional custom, Sultan Mehmet II granted his troops and his followers three full days of unrestrained pillage and looting in the city shortly after it was captured. Once the three days passed, he would then claim its leftover contents for himself. Hagia Sophia was not spared from the pillage and looting. Specifically, she became its focal point as the invaders believed it to contain the city’s most significant wealth and treasures. Shortly after Constantinople’s defenses collapsed and the Ottoman troops entered the city victoriously, the pillagers and looters made their way to the Hagia Sophia. They battered down its doors before storming in. The church became a mosque by the invading Ottoman forces from 1453 to 1935.

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