Hagia Sophia - A mythical masterpiece from a bygone era
The iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hagia Sophia – which means Holy Wisdom - in Istanbul has a layered past. Finished in the 6th century, it has gone through several looks and faiths.
It was originally built as an Orthodox basilica that was later converted into a Catholic cathedral. It was then converted back into an Orthodox church before being changed to a mosque by the Ottomans, then into a historical museum before ultimately turning back into a mosque – its world-renowned final form.
Thanks to its multi-faceted history, Hagia Sophia is the home of magnificent architectural work. Interestingly, when it was first built, it looked entirely different to what we associate with it today. In fact, two separate basilicas were built, demolished, and rebuilt on the site where Hagia Sophia now sits.
Today, the mosque stands 180-feet tall, towering over the historic district of the city for over 15 centuries. Despite having had many iterations over the years, the structure’s historical and cultural importance still reign supreme.
Going back in time, after the second basilica was burned down during the Nika Revolt, the plan was to build a third one at the cost of 4,000 Libra of gold, which roughly converts to 2,840 pounds of gold in the Imperial System.
Materials from across the Byzantine Empire were brought over to be used in the construction. The marble floor, for instance, came from Anatolia, bricks for the walls were brought from North Africa, and some of the columns were rumored to have been taken from the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.
It only took 10,000 workers five years and 10 months to complete its construction, which, if compared with St. Peter’s Basilica, is just a speck of time, as it took the latter 144 years to construct.
Even though it was built rapidly, the basilica’s architecture and engineering were not rushed. Its colossal 108-foot dome gives the entire building room to breathe and is supported by four pendentives and two smaller semi-domes. The bottom of the main dome is surrounded by 40 arched windows, allowing light to cascade into the main nave, making the dome look like it is hovering above the structure.
Fun fact: the dome also offers unique acoustics. Voices take a bassy tone when inside the building, as the building has an exceptionally long reverberation time. Hagia Sophia has a reverberation time of eight seconds, which is three times longer than most concert venues today.