Hagia Sophia Istanbul

hgsphQuite often cities are identified by their iconic buildings which are instantly recognisable. You can’t think of Paris without the Eiffel Tower, or of New York without the Empire State Building, Rome without the Colosseum or Sydney without its opera house.

Istanbul in Turkey has its iconic building too, which is the Hagia Sophia. This former sacred building has been the focus of differing religious beliefs for centuries, but no longer functions as a place of worship since being secularized and turned into a museum in 1935.

The city of Istanbul spans the eastern end of Europe and the western border of Asia, and the Hagia Sophia is in the European part of the city near the Topkapi Palace in an area known as Sultanahmet. With its massive dome and rising minarets it is not a building you can miss, and it is definitely a building you should visit when in Istanbul.

The fist church was built on the site in 360AD and called the Magna Ecclesia, or great Church, on the orders of Constantine the Great. It didn’t last long as it was burnt down during riots in 404AD.

The church was rebuilt a year later, but it too was completely destroyed in 532AD, although some of the original marble blocks from that period can be still seen today.

The Emperor Justinian the Great quelled the riots and had the church rebuilt in much grander fashion commissioning Anthemius of Tralles, a mathematician, and the Elder Isidore of Miletus, a Professor of Geography to design this remarkable building. Ten thousand people worked on the construction and it was inaugurated in 537AD. Two earthquakes hit, what was then Constantinople, within the next 20 years and the great dome collapsed causing great damage, so the church was rebuilt for a fourth time. The new architect, Isidore of Miletus, the nephew of the original designer increased the size of the dome to its current height which is 55.6 metres.

From its inception up until 1453 the Hagia Sophia was used as both an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral and a Roman Catholic Cathedral. On 29 May, 1453 the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmet II, conquered Constantinople after a 54 day siege. He ordered the church to be converted into a mosque, which it remained until 1931.

Following another earthquake in 1609, the majestic minarets were added and the mosque was beautified with interior and exterior renovations and further construction.

More restoration work has been recently undertaken to bring the building back to its former glory and it is currently open to the public from 9.30am until 4.30 pm from Tuesday through until Sundays.

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