Istanbul has a rich history and this is due to its more than favorable location. For this reason, for many centuries it was an important capital of two great empires - Byzantium and the Ottoman Empire. The historical heritage of various cultures and movements can still be seen throughout the city today. One of the best examples of this historic confluence is the majestic architecture of the Hagia Sophia.
The foundation stone of the majestic Hagia Sophia was laid during the time of the Byzantine Empire. On the site of pagan shrines, which suffered from fires in the distant 537, an Eastern Orthodox cathedral was erected, which experienced many events and cardinal transformations.
With the change in religious canons, the cathedral underwent reforms, when the Old Believers in this region lost priority, it was replaced by Catholicism. For this reason, St. Sophia Cathedral began to be called a Roman Catholic church, but starting in 1453, after the capture of the city by the Ottomans, the Christian shrine was transformed into a mosque. It was only in 1935 that it ceased to be a cult building and now the Hagia Sophia exists as a cultural and historical museum, where thousands of visitors come every year to see a fascinating map of history hidden in various architectural styles.
And this is no wonder, because every bend, every element of the decor tells about the history of the creation of a unique monument, which began long before the temple, which we can see now, was erected.
History of creation: Before the construction of the Hagia Sophia on this sacred site, two religious pagan buildings were cut down, burned down during the fires. After the last tragedy in 532, Emperor Justinian I ordered the construction of a new, more luxurious temple. For these purposes, high quality stone and marble were delivered. To decorate the portico, by order of the emperor, marble columns from all over his empire were brought from ancient temples. More than 10 thousand people were hired for the construction work, led by the architect from Tralles Anthemius (Isidor Miletsky). To make the temple more majestic, the ruler ordered to decorate almost all interior elements with gold, silver, ivory and semiprecious stones. It took almost 6 years for the ceremonial opening of the new basilica (December 27, 537) by Emperor Justinian I.
Now this basilica is considered an example of Byzantine architecture. Its imperial dome, which has undergone several restoration and alteration, is still admired today. And this is understandable, because its grandiose dimensions are really impressive - the dome with a diameter of 31 m reaches a height of 55.6 m. Over many centuries of its existence, the shrine has been transformed and changed, preserving more and more unique tiles, inscriptions, frescoes, etc. on its walls. … And this is not surprising, because the grandiose temple with a large nave and sparkling golden mosaics has been a Christian cathedral for only 900 years, not to mention the subsequent transformations.
Despite its venerable age and reconstruction, even now on the walls and columns of "Sophia" you can see unique mosaics and graffiti inscriptions created by masters from monastic circles over several centuries. You can also see the letters made by people from Kievan Rus. On some walls there are even runic Scandinavian inscriptions scrawled by the soldiers of the Varangian guard of the Byzantine emperor.
All inscriptions and plots of mosaics are still being actively studied by researchers, and the mystery of the origin of some events and depicted architectural structures still cannot be solved, because not a single analogue has survived.
With the fall of the empire after the arrival of the Ottomans, the Christian shrine began to be actively rebuilt and turned into a mosque. It is noteworthy that all work was carried out with the utmost care and respect for the symbols of another faith. This is evidenced by the fact that the gold mosaics, inscriptions and frescoes were not destroyed during this process, but only covered with plaster.
Moreover, during the transformation of the interior, the iconic collection of Islamic calligraphy was also applied to the free walls of the Hagia Sophia, which is not found in any other mosque in the world. Experts believe that such an impulse was dictated by the beauty that the Ottoman masters saw in front of them.
Of course, it was not done without the construction of minarets - a high tower of various shapes, from which believers are called to prayer, which is one of the main elements in the architectural structure of the mosque. Now in Hagia Sophia (since then it was called so) minarets were erected in different periods.
Reference: In Arabic, "ayah" has two meanings. It can be a name - wonderful, amazing, beautiful, special. It can also denote a small chapter of the Qur'an.
Under Sultan Fatih Mehmed, who captured Constantinople (later Istanbul), the southwestern minaret was built, his son Bayazid II erected the northeastern one, but the other two structures were created much later. Sinan, one of the most famous Ottoman architects and engineers, was engaged in their design and construction.
After the construction of the minarets, a marble carved minbar was installed (a platform from which the imam reads his Friday sermon), and in the 18th century, as a result of the restructuring of the cathedral (under Sultan Mahmud I) in 1739-1742, the altar part of the cathedral had to be moved in order to install a mihrab in it. (niche in which the imam of the mosque prays).
Gradually, the mosque turned into a pompous religious building, in which the most significant shrines and trophies brought from the occupied territories were kept. According to the editors of Novate. Ru, those bronze candlesticks that we can now see near the mihrab were brought back in 1526 from Buda (the capital of Hungary before the seizure of the Ottoman Empire) by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.
After the centuries-old history of functioning as a mosque, the first president of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, ordered to turn the Hagia Sophia into a museum complex. For this reason, a grandiose restoration began in 1935, which lasted several decades. In its course, it was decided to remove the plaster in order to reveal the unique mosaic, which is perfectly preserved underneath. After removing the huge carpets, the visitor was greeted by a luxurious marble floor with an ornate Omphalos (sacred object) in the center.
The works were carried out in such a way as to preserve both Islamic jewelry and religious symbols of Christians. Considering such a venerable age of the shrine, some elements of the structure and interior were reconstructed. Thanks to the work carried out, visitors coming to the Hagia Sophia can see the best examples of the Byzantine and Ottoman styles. Moreover, such an interweaving of different cultures in one structure cannot be found in the whole world.
No less striking is another Christian shrine located on the territory of a Muslim state and which has become a unique landmark of our time. Despite the fact that cave temple of St. Simeon recently appeared on the outskirts of Cairo, but the history of its creation is no less interesting.