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Cathedral of Hagia Sophia also known as “Cathedral of Saint Sophia”, “Cathedral of Holy Wisdom” Toumpouri, Marina


The church dedicated to the Holy Wisdom, or the Divine Wisdom (Hagia Sophia in Greek) was built by emperor Justinian I in the 6th century (532-537 CE), under the direction of the architects Anthemios of Tralles and Isidore of Militos. It was inaugurated on 27 December 537. The first church on the site was a basilica built in the 4th century by emperor Constantius II, inaugurated in 360. This building known also as the Great Church was burned down in 404 by the supporters of John Chrysostom, then Patriarch of Constantinople. The domed basilica built by emperor Theodosios II was completed in 415 and was destroyed in 532, again by fire, during the revolt of Nika. The domed basilica of Saint Sophia combines a longitudinal and centralised planning. The nearly square nave which measures 78 x 72 m (excluding the two narthexes) is covered by a huge dome of 31 m in diameter and two semidomes. The three aisles with galleries above are separated by two rows of columns made of finest marble. Likely, the lower parts of the walls are covered with marble slabs and opus sectile decoration, still well preserved. The building still standing is essentially the 6th-century construction apart from the dome which collapsed partially in 558 by an earthquake. It was rebuilt by Isidore the Younger and was dedicated on 24 December 562. The dome collapsed partially two more times and was rebuilt higher than the original one, while the whole construction was reinforced externally. In 1317 were added the huge exterior buttresses. The church underwent again restoration, following the collapse of the east arch in 1346, which brought down the east semidome and a part of the dome. The church and its surrounding structures compose a complex that includes: to the west a colonnaded atrium with a fountain; to the north a baptistery; and, at the northeast corner a sacristy. The cathedral was the liturgical centre of Constantinople and as such, its south side was flanked to the patriarchal palace built between 565 and 577. A passage at its south-east corner was connecting Hagia Sophia to the Great imperial palace. The 6th-century mosaic decoration of the church was largely non-figural as attested by the surviving fragments, such as those in the side aisles or the narthex’s vaulting. After the end of the Iconoclastic Controversy (8th-9th centuries) the church was redecorated. Part of the program is still preserved. In the apse an enthroned Virgin with Child; two archangels in the arch of the bema; Prophets and Fathers of the Church in the tympana (north and south walls) beneath the dome. In the gallery vaults it is known to have existed narrative scenes (Isaiah’s vision, Baptism of Christ, Pentecost). In the 10th century was added in the lunette of the southwest vestibule a depiction of Virgin enthroned with Christ, between Justinian I and Constantine holding respectively a model of the church and of the city of Constantinople. In the lunette above the “imperial door” (the central door between the inner narthex and the nave) was added around 900 a mosaic of Christ enthroned with an unnamed prostrate emperor. In the 11th and 12th centuries were added in the south gallery preserved for imperial use, mosaics depicting emperors and empresses. In the first, installed between 1028-1034, were depicted empress Zoe and her first husband, Romanos III, who was replaced between 1042 1055 by her third husband, Constantine IX Monomachos. Around 1118-1134 was added a mosaic depicting the Virgin with Child standing between emperor John II and empress Irini. In the late 13th century was installed in the south gallery the mosaic depicting the Deisis (Christ flanked by Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist). In 1204 Hagia Sophia was looted by the Crusaders and the Venetians on the Fourth Crusade. After the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453 the church was converted into a mosque, with the addition of minarets, a great chandelier, a mihrab and a minbar. In 1935 the monument was secularised and turned into a museum, while in 2020 it was converted back into a mosque.

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