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The ever-changing face of the Hagia Sophia

Istanbul, Turkey, as Susan Moody identifies, is the ‘constant beating of the wave of the East against the rock of the West.’ A perfect blend of tradition and contemporary, Istanbul offers a constant time travel between the past, present and future, owing to its capricious history and concomitant architecture. It is often referred to as the ‘harmony of opposites’ and true to this apophthegm, there lies a quaint edifice, an architectural marvel, dominating the city’s skyline with a saga that transcends all borders-The Hagia Sophia (literally meaning ‘Holy Wisdom’).

The Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Also referred to as Ayasofya in Turkish and Sancta Sofia in Latin, it was originally built as a Christian church in the 6th century CE. Since then it has served as a church, a mosque and, from 1935 onwards, a museum, earning for itself the title of a ‘UNESCO World Heritage Site’. Known for being a reflection of various religious changes that have occurred in Turkey, the Hagia Sophia now finds itself mirroring the country’s Islamist policies, as the Turkish Government on July 10, 2020 permanently converted it into a mosque, again!

The conversion was received rather ambivalently; Turkish Islamists rejoiced, while many secular Turkish inhabitants and much of the international community expressed their dismay, for the move marked a setback for one of the world’s greatest architectural and cultural landmarks.

Retracing the Journey of the Hagia Sophia- a 1500-year long Legacy

I. A sixth century Eastern Orthodox cathedral:

  1. The Hagia Sophia was built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian, in the first half of the 6th century. Interestingly, this was the third cathedral to be built at that very site.

  2. Touted as the ‘premier cathedral’ of the Roman Empire, the Hagia Sophia was designed by mathematician Anthemius of Tralles and physicist Isidore of Miletu, its construction, completed in 5 years by more than 10,000 labourers. It was reopened in December AD 537.

  3. The church stood as a Byzantine structure for almost 900 years, barring the time between 1204 and 1261, when the Crusaders raided the city and it became a Roman Catholic cathedral. However, in 1261 Constantinople was re-captured by the Byzantines who restored the cathedral and held force till the Ottomans arrived.

The Hagia Sophia as built by Justinian