The History of the Hagia Sophia
The Byzantine Church of Hagia Sophia stands atop the first hill of Constantinople at the tip of the historic peninsula, surrounded by the waters of the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn on three sides. It was built by Justinian I between 532 and 537 and is located in close proximity to the Great Palace of the Emperors, the Hippodrome, and the Church of Hagia Irene. The third known church to be built at its site since 360, the Justinian church replaced the smaller basilica built by Theodosius II in 415, which burnt down in the Nika riots against Justinian I and Empress Theodora. Beginning construction immediately after suppressing the revolt, Justinian commissioned physicist Isidoros of Miletus, and mathematician Anthemios of Thrales (today’s Aydin) to build a church larger and more permanent than its precedents to unify the church and reassert his authority as the emperor. There is little that remains from the earlier churches beside the baptistery and the skeuophylakion. The skeuophylakion, a round building that houses the patriarchal treasure, is located off the east corner and the baptistery, which was converted into an Ottoman tomb in 1639, stands to the southwest.
The grand dome of the Hagia Sophia, an impressive technical feat for its time, is often thought to symbolize the infinity of the cosmos signified by the Holy Soul to which the church was dedicated. It took five years to reconstruct the dome after it collapsed in an earthquake in 557. The new dome, which is taller and braced with forty ribs, was partially rebuilt after damage in the 859 and 989 earthquakes. Plundered during the Latin invasion following the Forth Crusade in 1204, the church was restored under Andronicos II during Palaeologan rule. The great southeast arch was reconstructed after the 1344 earthquake. As the Cathedral of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople for over a thousand years, with the brief exception of the Latin occupation, the Hagia Sophia was the center of Eastern Christianity from 360 to the Ottoman conversion. Its importance as the center of religious authority in the Byzantine capital was compounded with its role as the primary setting for state rituals and pageantry. The Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, which put an end to the Byzantine Empire, began the era of Islamic worship in the holy structure, which Mehmed II converted into a mosque immediately after his conquest.
Known then on as the Ayasofya Mosque, the Hagia Sophia remained the Great Mosque of the Ottoman capital until its secularization under the Turkish Republic In 1934. Little was modified during the initial conversion when a mihrab, a minber and a wooden minaret were added to the structure. Mehmed II built a madrasa near the mosque and organized a waqf for its expenses. Extensive restorations were conducted by Mimar Sinan during the rule of Selim II; the original sultan’s lodge was added at this time. Mimar Sinan built the Tomb of Selim II to the southeast of the mosque in 1577 and the tombs of Murad III and Mehmed III were built next to it in the 1600s. Mahmud I, who ordered a restoration of the mosque in 1739, added an ablution fountain, Koranic school, soup kitchen and library, making the mosque the center of a social complex. Perhaps the most well known restoration of the Hagia Sophia was completed between 1847-49 during the rule of Abdülmecid II, who invited Swiss architects Gaspare and Guiseppe Fossati to renovate the building. In addition to consolidating the dome and vaults and straightening columns, the two architects brothers revised the decoration of the exterior and the interior. The discovery of the figural mosaics after the secularization of Hagia Sophia, was guided by the descriptions of the Fossati brothers who uncovered them a century earlier for cleaning and recording. An earlier record of the Hagia Sophia mosaics is found in the travel sketches of Swedish engineer Cornelius Loos from 1710-1711.