Hagia Sophia is the landmark spot of Istanbul where tourists and nationals flock for sight-seeing. The place has been the focal point of several debates and controversies as well— is it a museum, mosque, or church? Keep reading to find out ten interesting facts you didn’t know about it!
1. Hagia Sophia’s Went By Different Names
Initially, it was called the Great Church (Megale Ekklesia in Greek / Magna Ecclesia in Latin). The second incarnation of the Church came in 430 CE when it was named Hagia Sophia. Its Greek meaning, “Holy Wisdom,” remains still. After the conquest by the Ottomans, it was called Ayasofya, and today it is the Ayasofya Müzesi.
2. It Has A Dark Past
Hagia Sophia is the central religious building in Istanbul, which meant that whenever Istanbul was invaded, Hagia Sophia was subjected to change. It was ransacked and desecrated by crusaders during the Fourth Crusade, and then again by the Ottomans during their invasion of Constantinople in 1481. Its attraction is also morbid as it holds tombs of the Ottoman Sultans in the historic buildings next to it.
3. 10,000 Men Constructed The Dome Alone
It took 10,000 men to complete the original dome of Hagia Sophia. They completed it in a record time of 5 years, ten months, and four days!
4. The Church Was Destroyed Twice
It was first constructed in Constantinople in 360 CE by the Roman Emporer of the time. The initial, wood-constructed Hagia Sophia burned during a series of riots in 404 CE. In 415 CE, Emperor Theodosius II ordered the church rebuilt, but another revolt caused widespread death and destruction in the city. And so, the church was destroyed for the second time.
5. The Original Dome Collapsed
The original dome of the building that took five years to complete is not the dome you see today. It collapsed in 558 CE after an earthquake. Initially, the dome was designed by legendary Roman architects, but later it was redesigned. The second version was made higher than the original and included several smaller domes for support.
6. One of The 7 Ancient Wonders Was Used In Its Construction
To construct and beautify the interior of the church, pillars from the long-abandoned and destroyed Temple of Artemis in Ephesus were used. Additional building materials may also have come from ancient sites in Baalbeck and Pergamon.
7. Its Famous Mosaics Were Once Wiped Out
The original Byzantine rulers decorated the interior with gorgeous mosaics and paintings depicting biblical scenes. After the Ottomans conquered Constantinople, they covered up the figures and mosaics with whitewash and plaster as Islam does not allow for such graphics in a mosque.
8. A 90-Year Old Blind Venetian Captured It Once
A blind and almost 100 years old Venetian man once convinced the care-takers of the building to let him take the throne. For a short time, he assumed the throne, but later, he was killed in a deadly revolt and buried in Hagia Sophia as well.
9. It’s almost 2000 years old
The building is ancient in its most absolute terms. Historians have not settled on whether it is 2000 years old yet or almost about to reach it. Regardless, the building has been standing there for nearly 20 centuries, has housed three religions, and been built thrice! Talk about incredible.
10. Many Islamic Features Were Added Later
To convert the building to a mosque, several changes were made to its structure. The rulers ordered that a mihrab (prayer niche), minbar (pulpit), and a fountain for ablutions be added to the Hagia Sophia.
A multitude of minarets was added to the exterior, and a school, kitchen, library, mausoleums, and sultan’s lodge joined the site over the centuries.
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