top of page
  • Writer's pictureShershada Rauf

Hagia Sophia - A Study of its History and Form

Hagia Sophia literally means 'Holy Wisdom' and is accepted by historians to have changed world architecture forever.

When in 537 AD, the Eastern Roman Emperor, Justinian 1 entered the church he conceptualized, he is said to have exclaimed, 'Solomon! I have outdone thee!'


The newly built church was the third reconstruction of its name, and outshone the two grandest religious structures at the time- the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and St Peter's Basilica in Rome. Justinian 1 and his architects succeeded in executing a design of a never-seen- before magnitude, one that was elegant, but ever-so-subtly asserted their grandeur and more importantly, set a precedent for all buildings to come.


Procopius, a prominent Byzantine historian said describing the Hagia Sophia 'whenever anyone enters this church to pray, he understands at once that it is not by any human power or skill, but by the influence of God, that this work has been so finely turned.'


Hagia Sophia literally means 'Holy Wisdom' and is accepted by historians to have changed world architecture forever.


The architects Anthemius and Isidorus dared to dream beyond what was perceived humanly attainable at the time, but it would be unjust to speak of Hagia Sophia merely in dimensions. The span of the ashlar dome was comparable to that of St Peter's Basilica but its unparalleled height set the dome in an unmatchable league of its own, lending the interior space an airy, light visual- almost as if the dome were suspended from the heavens and connected the realm of Gods and mankind.


Justinian I conceptualized the church with a right-angular plan to imitate the typical Roman basilica, but also intended to add to it a dome similar that of the Pantheon. Twenty years after construction, the dome was destroyed in an earthquake, the response to which was to build grander. A structure that would refuse to bow down to anything worldly, the dome was reconstructed, 40 windows piercing its periphery, supported by semi-circular arches and pendentives rising out from the four piers, in turn supported by two half domes. The pioneering scientific ingenuity employed in the design and construction is of landmark subtlety- the dome looks virtually unsupported to the common eye.


Procopius, a prominent Byzantine historian said describing the Hagia Sophia 'whenever anyone enters this church to pray, he understands at once that it is not by any human power or skill, but by the influence of God, that this work has been so finely turned.'

Altar- gold, canopy of altar and screen silver stalls of priests plated with silver



Justinian I's empire at Constantinople sought to promote Christian mysticism and realistic art, the effect of which has been beautifully translated into the mosaic works at Hagia Sophia. The grand main entrance originally intended for royalty is greeted by the mosaic of Mother Mary, flanked on either side by Constantine holding a model his city of Constantinople and Justinian I holding a model of Hagia Sophia. Much of the mosaic has been lost to time, with the Ottoman emperor Sultan Ahmed masking the non-Islamic elements of art with metal or plaster. The minarets were an Ottoman addition in the 15-16th Century after the Turks seized the empire in 1453. During a restoration project, it was surprising noted that most of the mosaic artwork remained unhurt under the layers of plaster.


The uncovering of mosaics had already begun in 1931 by the leadership of Thomas Whittemore. his time the white plasters covering the mosaics were pulled out, carpets on the floor were removed and the original marble décor could be seen for the first time in centuries


The Hagia Sophia is a poetry in brick that speaks of elegance with much guarded minimalism in construction. Much of its exterior exists to enable the interiors.

26 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page