History of Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia had been a church for 916 years, a mosque for 481 years and since 1934, it is playing the character of a museum. It has a history that can, at best be described as being unique.

The Hagia Sofia had its beginnings in a humble looking wooden roofed basilica way back in 390 A.D. The church was dedicated to Hagia Sophia or the Divine Wisdom. The church, then known as Megale Ecclesia or The Great Church, was burnt and reduced to rubble in 404 A.D.

At its site, Theodosius built an even bigger church. This building was again destroyed in the Nika Revolt of 532 A.D against Emperor Justinian. Under his orders, and supervised by architects Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus, the Hagia Sophia began to be rebuilt in that year itself.

The Fourth Crusade of 1204 saw the plunder of the Hagia Sophia. The iconoclastic crusaders systematically eradicated all images with religious connotations from the Hagia Sophia.

1453 was a watershed year in the already battered history of Hagia Sophia. Sultan Mehmet, after winning over Constantinople, in the year 1453, ordered the Hagia Sophia to be turned into a mosque.

Hagia Sophia, or, The Church of the Divine Wisdom, thus began its metamorphosis into a mosque.

Minarets, from which the summon cries for the daily prayers are issued; the Mihrab, an alcove in the wall facing Mecca and the member, which is a platform for the rendering of sermons, were the typically Islamic additions to the Hagia Sophia. Eight wooden plates bearing Islamic calligraphy are amongst other such add-ons.

The next five centuries did not witness any major makeovers for the Hagia Sophia, until 1934, when the erstwhile Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk ordained that it be henceforth turned into a museum, open to all and sundry.

Through the Byzantine history, the Hagia Sophia stood witness to numerous coronation and victory ceremonies. It has also sheltered many a fugitive and criminal.

Known as Sancta Sophia in Latin and Ayasofya in Turkish, the Hagia Sophia is one of the greatest buildings in the world. It had a tumultuous past, being ravaged by fires, riots and earthquakes apart from undergoing frequent transformations in character. It has endured all and today, stands tall as the most abiding symbol of Istanbul's skyline.