Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia Museum was a cathedral, built between 532 – 537 AD by Justinian, one of the most important and successful Byzantine emperors.

Before we can look at the history of Hagia Sophia, we need to look at the history of Istanbul, therefore the Roman Empire and the history of Christianity:

As we all know, the capital of the Roman Empire was Rome. After Jesus Christ was crucified killed by the Romans (A.D. 33) and resurrected, the disciples began to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, especially in the cities of the Roman Empire.

Christianity was a forbidden religion because it does not comply with the political and cultural structure (Pax Deorum) of the Roman Empire at that time. Christians were persecuted in the hands of different emperors for 300 years because of this ban. The culmination of this persecution is during the period of Emperor Diocletian between 284 and 305 AD. In the city called Nicomedia in today’s Izmit region, after the death of Diocletian, who ruled the Roman Empire from his summer palace, the throne fight begins. The four commanders engage in war among themselves. Constantine prevails in this throne fight and passes to the throne of the Roman Empire. Constantine sees the “XP” sign in a dream, in the skies, before his last victory to make him an emperor. This sign comes from the word “Χριστός” (Christ) in Ancient Greek. This event brings him closer to Christianity, and with Constantine, Christians get rid of about 300 years of persecution.

Constantine later declared that Byzantium would be the capital of the Empire instead of Rome. Byzantium is today the region called Sultanahmet or the Historic Peninsula. Choosing this region is strategically important. As it is a peninsula, it is easier to defend, and it has a central position between East and West.

Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to this region in 330 AD and named it Nova Roma, New Rome. After Constantine’s death, people called the city Constantinople, which means the city of Constantine.

History of Hagia Sophia

Before the completion of Hagia Sophia we have today, two different former churches stood in the same place. The first of these is the church built in 360 by Constantius, the son of Constantine. This church was called Megale Ekklesia, that is, the Great Church. In the time of Emperor Arcadius, M.S. It burns during riots in 404. The second Theodosius, who came to the throne after Arkadios, built a new church instead of this destroyed church. This second church is from M.S. It survives until 532.

A.D. In 532, during the reign of Justinian, the people of the city started a great rebellion due to unrest. This uprising, referred to as the Nika Uprising in history, causes significant damage to almost the entire city. Justinianus suppresses this revolt but realizes that the need for a new version of the town. Thus there was an opportunity for Justinian, and he begins preparations to rebuild the city. Just as Constantine wanted to establish New Rome, Justinianus had a similar purpose. However, this time it aims to build New Jerusalem instead of New Rome.

As it is known, Jerusalem, was a vital and sacred city for all monotheistic religions. The most important reason for this was that Solomon first built it. This one is the Second Temple of Jerusalem, which was a rebuilt version after being demolished in the 6th century. This Temple was where God met his people. Therefore, it was considered the most sacred place. Justinian, while building New Jerusalem, wanted to make the New Temple. Thus, while looking at the architecture of Hagia Sophia, we will look at the light of the Solomon Temple architecture in Jerusalem.

Justinianus invites the two most influential architects of his time before him and talks about his plan. These architects are Anthemius with Tralles and Isidoros with Miletus. By looking at the project, Anthemius and Isidorus state their views on the fact that this building is impossible to build; however, Justinianus is determined. He wants this church. The construction begins on February 23rd, 532, and the church opens to worship on December 27th, 537.

When the completed Hagia Sophia, it was the largest building in the world, apart from the pyramids, and remained like this for nearly 1000 years. Its dome was considered the largest and highest dome for 1000 years.

The Architecture of Hagia Sophia

The main feature that made the architecture of Hagia Sophia so tricky, and even though it was impossible to construct, was the plan to build a dome on a rectangular building. This feature was crucial for Justinian. So how would they do this?

Four main arches were necessary at first, which would carry the central dome. These four main arches would carry the dome; however, while the arches were squares, the dome would be round. This issue would prevent the dome from being fully supported. Consequently, the architects would build pendentives in the form of inverted triangles on the parts of which the arches were empty. Thus, they could support the central dome in a balanced way.

This time, however, they would face a new challenge. With the effect of the dome’s weight and gravity, the dome would push the arches that carried it outwards, and they would be in danger of collapsing with this effect. Therefore, the arches carrying the dome would have to be supported. For this purpose, they concentrated the idea of ​​supporting the North and South arches with the main half domes and each half dome with three half domes. However, since the main worship area (Naos) needed to be rectangular, it was not possible to support the East and West arches with half domes. Instead, in the corridors on the east and west sides of the building.

Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia

Why a Rectangular Structure and Dome?

At this point, we can ask the question: Why did Justinien insist on a rectangular structure and round dome? As we said before, Hagia Sophia contains powerful symbolism in its architecture. We can divide this symbolism into two: Worldy symbolism and spiritual symbolism:

Political Statement of Hagia Sophia:

Worldly symbolism is significant in the construction of Hagia Sophia. There is a fundamental political reason why the building is rectangular and has a dome. The reason for being a rectangular building is that the shape of Solomon Temple is rectangular. Besides, the architecture of the first Christian churches was a rectangular basilica. The dome is a Roman invention. The Pantheon pagan in Rome was the most important Temple of the Roman Empire. From here, we can see the Jewish foundations of Christianity in the form of the building and the Roman foundations in the dome. Hagia Sophia was kind of the New Pantheon.

Solomon’s Temple had a basic plan and consisted of three main parts: the Outer Courtyard (Women’s Courtyard), the Sanctuary, and the Holy of Holies. The Outer Courtyard was the area where regular people would enter for the offerings, rituals, etc. The Holy Area was the area where the priests made preparations for rituals, prayers, sacrifices, and presentations. The Holy of Holies was closed to all; because it was the space where God’s Holy Spirit would be. Once a year, only the High Priest could enter that area to ask for forgiveness of his people’s sins by bringing the blood of the sacrifice.

Hagia Sophia also consisted of three main sections in this way. Outer Narthex, Inner Narthex, and Naos (Holy Area). As you can see in the plans, the dimensions of the areas are opposite. While the outer courtyard forms the largest area in the Temple of Solomon, it appears to be the smallest area in Hagia Sophia. While the Sanctuary creates a slightly smaller space in the Temple of Solomon, the Inner Narthex, where priests are preparing, creates a slightly larger area. In the Temple of Solomon, only the area where God’s Holy Spirit has located forms the smallest space; In Hagia Sophia, the Most Holy Area, Naos, is the largest part. There is only one reason for this: the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. When Jesus Christ died for our sins on the cross, the veil covering the Sacred Space of the Temple was torn (Matthew 27:51), and the obstacle between God and man is now gone. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is no longer an entity wholly isolated from man; on the contrary, after Pentecost Day (Acts 2: 1 – 47), it is united with people. We can enter the Holy of Holies, the Naos, through the Holy Spirit.

Religious Approach to Hagia Sophia:

When we look at the dome, we see a round shape, and the round shape symbolizes eternity, immortality. Square or rectangle also symbolizes borders. Hagia Sophia gets this spiritual symbolism again from the Temple of Jerusalem. The Temple of Jerusalem was the place where God’s Holy Spirit would be. It was a place of peace where God lived with his people, where earth and sky overlapped. With the first sin, there was a separation between God and Man; Heaven and Earth. There is a constant promise in the Bible: heavenly sovereignty and sovereignty would unite. He wrote in Matthew 6:10 in the New Testament in the Prayer of the Lord: “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Therefore, Hagia Sophia contains a vital symbolism in terms of being the place where the sky and the earth meet.

When we look at the original dome, there is a mosaic in the center of the dome where Jesus Christ looks down from his throne. There are Seraphim on the triangular bings where the dome meets the arches. In this scene, when the Prophet Isaiah (6th century B.C.) saw God, the creator, and the king of the universe, on His throne, there were four Seraphim around the throne. (Isaiah 6) Seraphim is six-winged divine creatures. Because they were the closest creatures to God, they covered their feet with two wings and their faces with the other four wings in the face of His unbearable holiness and brightness of His light.

The place where the altar is in churches is called Apsis, and it is the most sacred area of ​​the church. This area on the eastern part of the building in Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches. Hagia Sophia is entirely different. The Apsis of Hagia Sophia faces the south-east. This orientation is because the New Jerusalem is the New Temple, so it faces Jerusalem and the Temple.

According to the records, on December 27th, 537, Justinian stood at the imperial door of the magnificent building at the inauguration of the church and said: “Oh! Solomon! I have surpassed you!” In this sentence, you can see Justinian’s competition with King Solomon and the Temple of Solomon, the Old Temple, and Hagia Sophia, the New Temple.

Upper Gallery:

At Hagia Sophia, it was very important for men and women to sit separately during worship. Therefore, while men are in the main worship area, on the ground floor during prayer, women would go to the upper gallery. It is not a staircase to the upper gallery, but there is a ramp. This ramp had two main purposes. The first is to bring the materials upstairs quickly with wheelbarrows during construction. The second is to move women from the Empress and prominent families to go to the upper gallery smoothly.

One of the essential areas in the upper gallery is the Synod hall. Synod is a hall where the top management of the church meets and decides on religious issues.

Deesis Hagia Sophia

Deesis Mosaic:

There is a magnificent mosaic panel on the wall inside the synod hall. This piece is one of the most important works of mosaic art. The name of the mosaic is Deesis and consists of three people. In the middle of these three characters is Jesus Christ, the Lord, and the King. To the right is His mother, Virgin Mary. To the left is John the Baptist. Deesis means prayer. But a way of prayer where the created begs the creator.

The theme of this mosaic is the last judgment day. Jesus Christ is the final judge of the world, and he will come back on the last day of judgment. In this scene, Virgin Mary and John the Baptist pray to Jesus Christ for people’s forgiveness of their sins. Jesus Christ gave his incredible sacrifice on the cross at once and for all. There is no time limit in this extraordinary victory; because He is a Lord, independent of time and space. The message in this mosaic supports this idea. The people who prayed to Jesus Christ on the last day of judgment were not randomly selected. The presence of the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist is just to convey this message.

John the Baptist is the last prophet to herald Jesus Christ. Virgin Mary is also the first to hear good news. While John the Baptist represents the Old Testament, that is, the Law and the prophecies; The Virgin Mary represents the New Testament, that is, the completion of the law and prophecies. Law and Grace are one and whole in Jesus Christ.

This mosaic gives a profound message of the concepts of law and justification.