Aya Sofya

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Hagia Sophia (Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία; Holy Wisdom), now known as the Ayasofya Museum, was an early Christian Church[1] and later an Eastern Orthodox church which was transformed into a mosque in 1453 by the Turks,[2] and converted into a museum in 1935. It is located in Istanbul, Turkey, on the Turkish Thrace. It is regularly considered one of the greatest and most beautiful buildings in history. Its conquest by the Ottomans at the fall of Constantinople is considered one of the great tragedies of Christianity by the Greek Orthodox faithful.

The name comes from the Greek name Ἁγία Σοφία, a contraction of Ναός τῆς Ἁγίας τοῦ Θεοῦ Σοφίας, meaning "Church of the Holy Wisdom of God". It is also known as Sancta Sophia in Latin and Ayasofya in Turkish. Although it is sometimes called "Saint Sophia" in English, it is not named after a saint named Sophia — the Greek word sophia means "wisdom."

Hagia Sophia is covered by a central dome with a diameter of 31 meters (102 feet) and 56 meters high, slightly smaller than the Pantheon's. The dome seems rendered weightless by the unbroken arcade of arched windows under it, which help flood the colourful interior with light.

The dome is carried on pendentives — four concave triangular sections of masonry which solve the problem of setting the circular base of a dome on a rectangular base. At Hagia Sophia the weight of the dome passes through the pendentives to four massive piers at the corners. Between them the dome seems to float upon four great arches.

At the western (entrance) and eastern (liturgical) ends, the arched openings are extended by half domes carried on smaller semidomed exedras. Thus a hierarchy of dome-headed elements builds up to create a vast oblong interior crowned by the main dome, a sequence unexampled in antiquity. All interior surfaces are sheathed with polychrome marbles, green and white with purple porphyry and gold mosaics, encrusted upon the brick. On the exterior, simple stuccoed walls reveal the clarity of massed vaults and domes.

Nothing remains of the first church that was built on the same site during the 4th century. Following the destruction of the first church, a second was built by Constantius II, the son of Constantine I, but was burned down during the Nika riots of 532. The building was rebuilt under the personal supervision of Emperor Justinian I and rededicated on December 27, 537.

Justinian chose the physicist, Isidore of Miletus and the mathematician, Anthemius of Tralles as architects; Anthemius, however, died within the first year. The construction is described in Procopius' On Buildings (De Aedificiis). The Byzantine poet Paul the Silentiary composed an extant poetic ekphrasis, probably for the rededication of 563, which followed the collapse of the main dome.

After the great earthquake in 989, which ruined the dome of St Sophia, the Byzantine government sent for the Armenian architect Tirdat, creator of the great churches of Ani and Agine, to repair the dome.

Hagia Sophia is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. Of great artistic value was its decorated interior with mosaics and marble pillars and coverings. The temple itself was so richly and artistically decorated that Justinian proclaimed "Solomon, I have surpassed thee!" (Νενίκηκά σε Σολομών). Justinian himself had overseen the completion of the greatest cathedral ever built up to that time, and it was to remain the largest cathedral for 1,000 years up until the completion of the cathedral in Seville.

Justinian's basilica was at once the culminating architectural achievement of late antiquity and the first masterpiece of Byzantine architecture. Its influence, both architecturally and liturgically, was widespread and enduring in the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Muslim worlds alike. Under Justinian's orders, eight Corinthian columns were disassembled from Baalbek, Lebanon and shipped to Constantinople for the construction of Hagia Sophia.

Interior of the Hagia Sophia, February 2007The dome of Hagia Sophia has spurred particular interest for many art historians and architects because of the innovative way the original architects envisioned the dome. The dome is supported by pendentives which had never been used before the building of this structure. The pendentive enables the round dome to transition gracefully into the square shape of the piers below. The pendentives not only achieve a pleasing aesthetic quality, but they also restrain the lateral forces of the dome and allow the weight of the dome to flow downward.

Although this design stabilizes the dome and the surrounding walls and arches, the actual construction of the walls of Hagia Sophia weakened the overall structure. The bricklayers used more mortar than brick, which weakened the walls. The structure would have been more stable if the builders at least let the mortar cure before they began the next layer; however, they did not do this. When the dome was placed atop the building, the weight of the dome caused the walls to lean outward because of the wet mortar underneath. When Isidorus the Younger rebuilt the original dome, he had to first build up the interior of the walls so that they were vertical in order to support the weight of the new dome. Another probable change in the design of the dome when it was rebuilt was the actual height of the dome. Isidore the Younger raised the height of the dome by approximately twenty feet so that the lateral forces would not be as strong and the weight of the dome would flow more easily down the walls.

A second interesting fact about the original structure of the dome was how the architects were able to place forty windows around the base of the dome. Hagia Sophia is famous for the mystical quality of light that reflects everywhere in the interior of the nave, which gives the dome the appearance of hovering above the nave. This design is possible because the dome is shaped like a scalloped shell or the inside of an umbrella with ribs that extend from the top of the dome down to the base. These ribs allow the weight of the dome to flow between the windows, down the pendentives, and ultimately to the foundation.

The anomalies in the design of Hagia Sophia show how this structure is one of the most advanced and ambitious monuments of late antiquity.

Hagia Sophia was the seat of the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople and a principal setting for Byzantine imperial ceremonies.

The structure has been severely damaged several times by earthquakes. The dome collapsed after an earthquake in 558; and was replaced in 563. There were additional partial collapses in 989 after which an Armenian architect named Trdat was commissioned to repair the damage. During the Latin Occupation (1204–1261) the church became a Roman Catholic cathedral. After the Turks invaded Constantinople, Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque in 1453. In 1935, under the orders of Turkish president Kemal Atatürk, Hagia Sophia was turned into the Ayasofya Museum.

The building was restored and repaired numerous times by Ottoman architects. The most famous and extensive work was done by Mimar Sinan, one of the most famous architects in history, in the 16th century, which included the addition of structural supports to the exterior of the building, the replacement of the old minarets with the minarets that stand today, and the addition of Islamic pulpits and art.

For almost 500 years the principal mosque of Istanbul, Ayasofya served as model for many of the Ottoman mosques such as the Şehzade Mosque, the Süleymaniye Mosque, and the Rüstem Pasha Mosque.

Following the building's conversion to a mosque in 1453, many of its mosaics were destroyed or covered with plaster, due to Islam's ban on representational imagery. This process was not completed at once, and reports exist from the 17th century in which travellers note that they could still see Christian images in the former church. In 1847-49, the building was restored by two Swiss brothers, Gaspare and Giuseppe Fossati, and Sultan Abdülmecid allowed them to also document any mosaics they might discover during this process. This work did not include repairing the mosaics and after recording the details about an image, the Fossatis painted it over again. This work included covering the previously uncovered faces of two seraphim mosaics located in the centre of the building. The building currently features a total of four of these images and two of them are restorations in paint created by the Fossatis to replace two images of which they could find no surviving remains. In other cases, the Fossatis recreated damaged decorative mosaic patterns in paint, sometimes redesigning them in the process. The Fossati records are the primary sources about a number of mosaic images now believed to have been completely or partially destroyed in an earthquake in 1894. These include a great mosaic of Christ Pantocrator in the dome, a mosaic over a now unidentified Door of the Poor, a large image of a jewel-encrustred cross and a large number of images of angels, saints, patriarchs, and church fathers. Most of the missing images were located in the building's two tympana. The Fossatis also added a pulpit (minbar) and the four large medallions on the walls of the nave bearing the names of Muhammad and Islam's first caliphs.

A large number of mosaics were uncovered in the 1930s by a team from the American Byzantine Institute led by Thomas Whittemore. The team chose to let a number of simple cross images remain covered by plaster, but uncovered all major mosaics found.

Due to its long history as both a church and a mosque, a particular challenge arises in the restoration process. The Christian iconographic mosaics are being gradually uncovered. However, in order to do so, important, historic Islamic art would have to be destroyed. Restorers have attempted to maintain a balance between both Christian and Islamic cultures. In particular, much controversy rests upon whether the Islamic calligraphy on the dome of the cathedral should be removed, in order to permit the underlying Pantocrator mosaic of Christ as Master of the World, to be exhibited (assuming the mosaic still exists).

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