Hagia Sophia Mosque

Hagia Sophia Mosque is a great work of Byzantine architecture with a long and interestinghistory full of earthquakes, war, and prestige. Commissioned by Justinian the Great,Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, Hagia Sophia stood as the largest cathedral inthe entire world from the date it was completed in December of 537 until nearlya millennia after when the Seville Cathedral in Spain was completed in 1520. It’sfame comes largely from it’s dome roof, sitting 30 meters in diameter on top offour pendentives at each corner. Hagia Sophia may not have the spiraling towersof gothic cathedrals, but it’s amazing geometry and history give Hagia Sophia apowerful place in the world of architecture.

the hagia sophia mosque


Hagia Sophia we see today is actually the third version of the building; in 360AD a great church stood in it’s place in Constantinople before being destroyed inriots less than fifty years later. Nothing of the church remains. Another buildingwas inaugurated in 415 on the same site again, and while it stood for morethan a century, it met a similar fiery fate - Perhaps it was the constant failure ofConstantinople’s churches that pushed Justinian the Great to create the largest,most advanced cathedral the world had ever seen! In February of 532 the ByzantineEmpire began to build Hagia Sophia, and five years later, it would be complete.

In order to build Hagia Sophia using 6th century construction methods, PhysicistIsidore of Miletus and Mathematician Anthemius of Tralles were chosen to be thelead architects. The largest problem they faced was supporting the dome: Mostdomes were supported by straight pillars, but this meant that the floor beneathhad to equal to the diameter of the dome. However, in the construction of HagiaSophia, the architects made use of pendentives to increase floor space. Pendentivesare pillars that support a dome, yet are themselves shaped as domes.

Imaginetaking a giant, hollow sphere and putting a point on the top. Now, from that point,make a right angle triangle and follow the two lines until you reach the equatorof the sphere. Connect the end points of the lines, and you would see a convextriangular shape. Imagine removing that shape from the sphere. If you were to standit upside down and arrange it with three other pillars of the same shape, there isa circular hole where they meet – Exactly the right shape to set a dome on. This isthe centerpiece of the architectural beauty of Hagia Sophia. Tragically, constructionsites in the 500’s were extremely dangerous, and Anthemius of Tralles died beforehe could see his work reach fruition.

the hagia sophia mosque


The Byzantine Empire began it’s fall in the 13th century. Civil wars, naturaldisasters, and a widespread refusal to accept help from Rome to defend Ottomaninvasion, led the once great nation to death. In 1453 Sultan Mehmed of the OttomanEmpire delivered the killing blow and laid siege to Constantinople. As the city’sshambled defense fell, Hagia Sophia offered shelter to the citizens of the city -yet in unfortunate irony, it was the first building to be looted due to it’s religiousprominence. Soon after the invasion, the cathedral was converted to a mosque. Inthe present day, Hagia Sophia stands proud (despite a leaky roof and low structuralintegrity) as a museum in what is now Istanbul, Turkey.


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