The Cathedral of Saint Sophia (of Holy Wisdom of God) is the most magnificent architectural masterpieces of the early Middle Age, which has survived until our days. Though today it is only a museum, and several centuries before it was a mosque, all the same the Cathedral still remains one of the largest and most splendid Christian temples in the world.
St. Sophia`s Cathedral was constructed for just five years, during 532-537, by orders of emperor Justinian. For over 1100 years it was the largest temple in the world. And only in XVI century the great Italian sculptors of Renaissance period was able to surpass Byzantine architects Anthimus and Isidor, having built the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome.
For more than a thousand years St. Sophia`s Cathedral was a model for almost all domed temples. And the Cathedral itself was in turn modeled on the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. According to the legend, when the temple was consecrated, Justinian exclaimed: «I surpassed you, Solomon.»
Original temple could amaze your mind. Justinian ordered to bring precious stones, marble, ebony, gold and silver from every corner of his empire. The length of cathedral is 81 meter, the width is 72 meters, and the height is 55 meters. Iconostasis was made in the form of 12 silver columns with gold capitals hanged with icons. The altar was made mainly of gold.
The dome consisted of cascade semi-domes with 40 windows, with central dome reaching the diameter of 31 meter, which was then absolute architectural achievement. The main nave was surrounded by galleries supported by 107 columns of malachite and Egyptian porphyry.
In 1453, just after Constantinople was captured by Turks, the Cathedral was converted into a mosque of the same name (Aya Sofia). All paintings were plastered, and there was added a minaret. Later, one more minaret was built, and then another two minarets. This explains why Aya Sofia has different minarets.
Also you should mention magnificent mosaic paintings, covering walls and flooring. Mosaic technology, which was widely spread in Byzantine, is now almost forgotten. There are only several mosaic schools in Madaba (Jordan), and the world`s largest temples where you can see mosaic paintings are St. Mark`s Basilica in Venice and Savior on the Blood Cathedral in St. Petersburg. In 1932, when Aya Sofia was turned into museum, there were cleared several mosaic paintings on the walls, which can give you certain idea of the beauty of cathedral`s internal decorations.