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The Great Hagia Sophia Museum

Hagia Sophia


Hagia Sophia, pronounced “aya sophia” and translates from Greek as “Holy Wisdom” is one of the most renowned and famous religious buildings in the world. Located in the heart of Old Istanbul, also known as the Sultan Ahmet district, the Hagia Sophia enriches the entire locality with its historical significance. The very moment you glance upon the structure whether it’s in a movie, a postcard or a website, an immediate feeling of time travel captivates you. Hagia Sophia is one of the very few places in the world that is revered & respected by both Christians & Muslims.


A Church

Not many people are aware of the fact that there were two more churches that were built at the same exact location as the current structure.


Church 1 – The Great Church

The very first structure erected on this site was built by Emperor Constantine the Great and then completed by Constantius II. An Arian Bishop, Eudoxius of Antioch inaugurated the Church officially in February of 360 AD. This church was called “The Great Church”, as it was much grander than any other church in the region. Built in traditional latin style of galleries and roofs carved out of wood, this amazing Cathedral served as a principal church of the Byzantine Empire.
In June of 404 AD, the city fell into riots due to a conflict between the wife of the Emperor Arcadius & the Patriarch of Constantinople. During these fierce riots, the Church was burnt down and unfortunately, nothing remains as a remembrance of this great place of worship.


Church 2 – Church of Theodosius II

Theodosius, who became Emperor at the age of seven, was thought to be a gentle, scholarly & easily persuaded man. He took on the task of re-building the Great Church with the help of an architect named Rufinus. Asides from the re-construction of the Church, Theodosius is credited for building the Great wall surrounding Constantinople, founding the University of Constantinople as well as compiling all of the laws passed from the time of Constantine the first & formalized a system of laws.


The Second version of the Hagia Sofia was completed in October 415 AD and inaugurated by the 14 year old Emperor Theodosius II.


Unfortunately, in January 532 AD during the reign of Justinian this second version of Hagia Sofia was also burnt down during the Nika Riots. History records that the entire issue began with “Chariot racing”. There were 4 colored teams taking part in these events, Blue, Green, Red & White. Over the course of time, each one of these teams & their fan following began invoking socio-political agendas that needed to be addressed. On January 13th 532, the Hippodrome was full of fans of the Blue & the Green Teams. However, on this day, the chanting grew louder & angrier as the day and the races went by. The angry and frustrated crowd of peasants began rioting and stormed the Palace, which was right next door. The mobs grew larger and angrier and within 5 days destroyed almost all of Constantinople, along with Justinian’s Great Church. At the end, Justinian outsmarted the mob by awarding the Blue Team (his favourite) a hefty amount of Gold in exchange for an end to the riots. This plan worked & Justinian was able to either execute or exile his opposition and trouble makers.
Marble blocks are columns were discovered in 1935 beneath the western courtyard of the Hagia Sophia structure. Further excavation was prohibited as it was declared a risk for the structural integrity of the Hagia Sophia building.


Church 3 – The Basilica of Hagia Sophia


At age 50, in 532 AD, emperor Justinian I was in high spirits. Having gotten rid of his enemies from within the city, he positioned himself to his dream of restoring the Greatness of the Empire.
Just weeks after the destruction of the second Hagia Sophia, Justinian decided that he was going to build the most awe inspiring, magnificent & glorious Cathedral in the World. He called upon physicist Isidore of Miletus and mathematician Anthemius of Tralles as architects for this magnificent new Basilica to be constructed in the heart of Constantinople. More than ten thousand workers were assigned. Yellow stone from Syria, porphyry from Egypt and Hellenic Columns from the Artemis Temple in Ephesus and other construction materials were brought from all over the Empire throughout the Mediterranean region.
Roughly five years and ten months of tireless work brought on the completion of the majestic final version of the Great Hagia Sophia which became the seat of the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople. The Emperor alongwith the Patriarch Menas, inaugurated the Basillica of Hagia Sofia on December 27th, 537 AD.



Several major quakes shook the Basillica along the years, including the one’s in 553 AD & 557 AD that cracked many parts of the dome. Tragically, the main Dome collapsed during one of the most devastating earthquakes in 558 AD. The Emperor immediately ordered restoration that was constructed with lighter but durable materials. The Emperor ordered to disassemble eight Corinthian Columns from a Temple in Baalbek, Lebanon and shipped to Hagia Sophia for its restoration. The reconstruction was completed in 562 & ended up elevating the Dome to its current height of 30 feet or 55.6 meters.


Removal of Imagery & Icons

During the reign of Leo III, the Byzantine Empire entered a period of Iconoclasm. During this period the Emperor, along with the Eastern Church hierarchy outlawed the use of imagery & idols throughout the empire, including the Hagia Sophia. All religious imagery was erased & icons were removed from the Great Hagia Sophia during this time period.
Emperor Theophilus, despite of his ongoing wars with Arabs, was highly influenced by Islamic Arts. He installed two-winged bronze doors with his monograms affixed, at the southern entrance to the Hagia Sophia.


Destruction & Conquest

The Church experienced many other earthquakes and restorations during different time periods.
During the Fourth Crusade, the Church was ransacked & desecrated by the Latin occupiers of Constantinople and turned into a Roman Catholic Church. After the Byzantine capture of Constantinople in 1261, its recorded that the Church was in dilapidated condition and the


A Mosque

At the conquest of Constantinople by Mehmet II in 1453, Hagia Sophia along with the rest of Constantinople was looted & pillaged for three days, until Sultan Mehmet II took claim to everything that was left over.
The Church was converted into a Mosque & almost immediately, the Muslim call for prayer (the Adhan) was recited aloud and Hagia Sophia was transformed into the first imperial mosque of what was now called Kostantiniyye (Constantinople). Mehmet II also most immediately ordered renovations & conservation efforts for the aging structure.
Along the years, the Building obviously faced fatigue and tremendous weakness. To overcome these weaknesses, Sultan Selim II appointed Mimar Sinan, who was an expert architect. Sinan erected two large minarets in addition to the ones built at an earlier time. In addition, he built the Sultan’s Lodge & Mausoleum of Selim II.
Another major renovation took place in 1847 which took eight hundred workers to complete in two years.



At the formation of the modern Republic of Turkey in 1939, its President & founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk transformed the building into a Museum. Since then several restoration campaigns have been taken up by the Turkish Government. ­­
Although using the building as a place of worship has been prohibited by the Turkish Government, a Moazzen calls for prayers five times a day. This call for prayer is broadcasted from one of the minarets and is conducted in beautiful synchronicity with the call from the nearby Blue Mosque also known as the Sultan Ahmet Mosque.
All of the above create an impressive and historically rich building that is a great place for art lovers, history buffs and architect fans alike to visit. Its beautiful design, fascinating mosaics, airy open spaces and the place that it holds in both Turkey’s and the wider religious words history make Hagia Sophia a wonderful place to behold.
Altamash Mir
Altamash Mir
Health Care Consultant & Blogger based out of Chicago, IL.


  1. TJ says:

    Very Informative article….

  2. Faisal Yasin says:

    Amazing knowledge

  3. meer azam says:

    Awesome and very informative article

  4. Shahrukh Mir says:

    This is THE BEST article I have ever read in my entire life

  5. Yasmeen says:

    This is a very educational article and I hope to see more good job

  6. Karen says:

    Thank you for bringing such an awe inspiring place to life. Now we can all experience the history and culture of this amazing monument!

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