Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

The Cathedral of St. Sophia of God`s Wisdom is the most majestic of the architectural masterpieces of the early Middle Ages that have come down to our days. For several centuries it was a mosque. Nevertheless, it remains one of the largest and most majestic Christian churches 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.

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Hagia Sophia cathedral was built in 537 and remained the largest Church in the world for more than 1100 years
The altar part of the Cathedral of Ayia Sofia, where now instead of the iconostasis are the Minbar and the mihrab
The main nave of Hagia Sophia is surrounded by galleries that support 107 columns from malachite and Egyptian porphyry
Under the dome of Hagia Sophia there are 40 Windows in cascading semi-domes, and the diameter of the main dome is 31 m
The upper gallery of the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia, with marble floors very spacious and bright
The walls and floors in front of the Hagia Sophia are covered with unique Byzantine marble
The Imperial gate of Hagia Sophia is in the center. According to legend, their decoration used wood from Noah`s ark
After the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque and Minbar appeared here
The main nave of Hagia Sophia is surrounded by galleries that support 107 columns from malachite and Egyptian porphyry
Eight-winged Seraphim - preserved Christian paintings on the walls and domes of Hagia Sophia
Omphalion (space of colored marble in Hagia Sophia) symbolizing the Navel of the Earth or the Center of the World
Antique marble jar from Pergamon in the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia
The ceilings of the galleries during the reign of Emperor Justinian (6th century) were covered with smalt mosaic
The fresco of Our Lady symbolizes the Wisdom of God over the former altar of Hagia Sophia
The Byzantine icon of Our Lady with Emperor John Comnenus and Empress Irene (1120 year)
Byzantine mosaic icon of Jesus Christ and Emperor Constantine Monomakh and Empress Zoe (1044)
An outstanding work of Byzantine art in Hagia Sophia - mosaic icon of Jesus Christ and John the Baptist
The marble slabs on the ramp leading to the upper galleries have been polished with feet for several centuries
To maintain the walls of the Hagia Sophia, special supports were attached to the side