Hagia Sophia

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Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia (häˈjə sōfēˈə, hāˈjēə,) [Gr.,=Holy Wisdom] or Santa Sophia, Turkish Ayasofya, originally a Christian church at Constantinople (now İstanbul, Turkey) and then a mosque under Muslim rule. It was secularized by decree under the Turkish republic in 1934 and converted into a museum in 1935; the decree was reversed in 2020, and it was ordered restored to use as mosque.


Hagia Sophia is the supreme masterpiece of Byzantine architecture. Its spacious nave is covered by a lofty central dome carried on pendentives, a device not previously employed in monumental construction. Pendentives make possible support of the dome on a square framework of four huge equal arches resting on huge piers. The arches at the east and west are extended and buttressed by great half domes, while the half domes in turn are carried on smaller semidomed exedrae. A vast oblong interior, 102 ft (31 m) by 265 ft (81 m), is thus created from a succession of domical elements that build up to the main dome, 102 ft (31 m) in diameter and 184 ft (56 m) high, in which a corona of 40 arched windows sheds a flood of light on the interior.

At the east end of the nave is the vaulted sanctuary apse and at the west end a great narthex or vestibule, beyond which an exonarthex opens to the forecourt, or atrium. Flanking the nave to the north and south are side aisles with galleries over them. Their massive vaults, carried at both levels by monolithic columns of green and white marble and purple porphyry, serve as buttresses to receive the thrust of the great dome and its supporting arches. The vast interior is thus wholly free of suggestion of ponderous load, and its effect is that of a weightless golden shell that seems to possess a miraculous inherent stability.

In this one structural organism the Roman methods of construction are epitomized, modified and enriched by new aesthetic theories and realized in strikingly colorful materials and ornamental techniques. These materials and techniques are often considered Eastern, but they are in fact the logical outgrowth of trends already apparent in Roman imperial buildings of the first three centuries A.D. All interior surfaces are sheathed with polychrome marbles and gold mosaic, encrusted upon the brick core of the structure; most of the magnificent figure mosaics have been cleaned and restored to view. Externally, the broad, smooth surfaces of stuccoed walls and the great unconcealed masses of vaults and domes pile up impressively. Hagia Sophia served as model for several of the great Turkish mosques of Constantinople.


Hagia Sophia stands on the site of an earlier basilican church erected by Constantius II in 360, some 30 years after Byzantium had become the capital of the Roman Empire. This church was burned in 404 and rebuilt by Theodosius II in 415, only to be again destroyed by fire in 532. The present structure, which is entirely fireproof, was built in 532–37 by Emperor Justinian from designs of his imperial architects Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus. As a result of severe earthquakes, the dome collapsed in 558, but it was rebuilt by 563 on a somewhat higher curve.

With the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Hagia Sophia became a mosque. In subsequent years all the interior figure mosaics were obscured under coatings of plaster and painted ornament; most of the Christian symbols elsewhere were obliterated. The four slender minarets, which rise so strikingly at the outer corners of the structure, were added singly and at different times; the crescent supplanted the cross on the summit of the dome, and the altar and the pulpit were replaced by the customary Muslim furnishings.


See H. Kahler, Hagia Sophia (tr. 1967); R. S. Nelson, Hagia Sophia, 1850–1950: Holy Wisdom, Modern Monument (2004).

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Hagia Sophia (Turkey)

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), now a mosque, was one of the early products of the success of Christianity in the Roman Empire. A persecuted religion for some four centuries, Christianity gained imperial favor during the reign of the Emperor Constantine (r. 306–337). In spite of the attempt of Julian the Apostate (r. 361–363) to return the empire to its pre-Christian religion, by the end of the century Christianity was securely established. Over the next several centuries it would, with imperial favor, become the religion of the people.

The Hagia Sophia was the brainchild of the Emperor Justinian I (r. 527–565), who conceived the idea of a “great church” for the Roman capital, then in Constantinople, the likes of which did not exist anywhere in the known world. An older church, which itself had replaced a temple to Apollo, possibly built by Constantine, was chosen to be replaced. This rested on a hill overlooking the Sea of Marmara. Construction began in 532 and lasted for the next five years. Patriarch Menas of Constantinople consecrated the new church on December 27, 537. It became the seat of the Archbishops of Constantinople, better known as the Ecumenical Patriarchs.

The new church is dominated by its dome, which rests atop four large piers. The dome, which rises some 200 feet above the floor of the cathedral, was constructed using the most advanced building ideas of its day. With imperial favor, the church was flowered with lavish gifts over the next centuries. It also came to house a variety of Christian relics, including many brought from the Holy Land by Helena, the mother of Constantine.

The church suffered the first of many indignities in 1204 when the Crusaders, representing the Roman Catholic Church, captured and ransacked the city. They carried off much of the Hagia Sophia’s wealth and holy treasures. On May 29, 1453, the Muslim army, under Sultan Mehmet II, captured Constantinople. Among the first sites he visited was the Hagia Sophia. He subsequently decided to transform the church into his imperial mosque. During this period, the many mosaics in the church were plastered over.

In 1934, following the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Kemal Ataturk, the new president of the new nation of Turkey, secularized the Hagia Sophia by turning it into a museum. However, he did little to restore the building. In 1993 representatives from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)surveyed the deterioration in the building and prompted some initial efforts to clean, repair, and restore the building. The uncovering of the mosaics remains a sensitive issue for the Turkish Muslim majority.


Mainstone, Rowland J. Hagia Sophia: Architecture, Structure, and Liturgy of Justinian’s Great Church. W. W. Norton & Co., 1997.
Mango, Cyril, and Ahmet Ertug. Hagia Sophia. A Vision for Empires. Istanbul: Ertug & Kocabiyik, 1998.
Swift, Emerson Howland. Hagia Sophia. New York: Columbia University Press, 1940.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hagia Sophia


(also Sancta Sophia), a church in Istanbul, the architectural masterpiece of the Byzantine period.

Hagia Sophia was constructed between 532 and 537 by An-themius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus. The building, a domed basilica with three aisles, has a length of 77 m. The dome, which is 31.4 m in diameter, is supported by pendentives and is buttressed by a complex system of semidomes, which imparts a sense of unity to the magnificent interior. The interior is decorated with colored marble and with mosaics. The mosaics were covered with plaster by the Turks, who converted the church into a mosque after 1453. Some mosaics, dating from the sixth to 12th centuries, have been recovered. The building’s exterior was altered in the 16th to 18th centuries by the addition of such mosque elements as minarets.

Hagia Sophia is now a museum.


Deichmann, A. Hagia Sophia. New York, 1974.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Hagia Sophia

supreme achievement of Byzantine architecture, noted for its great size and rising succession of domes. [Turkish Arch.: NCE, 1172]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.