Hagia Sophia’s dimensions are enormous, over 260 feet long and 230 feet wide. The dome is 110 feet across and rises about 175 feet above ground level.
The building of Hagia Sophia started in A.D. 532 when rioting began in Constantinople. Emperor Justinian I was in power and was extremely unpopular. The rioting spread as the rioters were trying to get Justinian out of power by capturing him. The people were angry about the taxes and wanted to be free of him, however with the help of his troops he managed to win them over.
Anthemius and Isidore the Elder were deployed to build the new church and built the Hagia Sophia on the original site of a burnt out church with great speed. The construction though was plagued with problems, mainly with the roof. About twenty years later the roof fell and Isidore the Younger was brought in to rebuild it. The roof has undergone minor repairs and is still standing today.
Visitors will notice that the Hagia Sophia has two levels, the ground floor with a gallery above. The reasoning could be that people were segregated according to sex and status when they attended the cathedral, and the gallery was for the emperor and empress when they were present.
The decor of the Hagia Sophia when it was first built had simple crosses, but as time went on this changed to include several mosaics. More internal mosaics have been added over time along with portraits and pictures of Christ.
The eighth and ninth centuries A.D., brought more rebellion and some of the mosaics were destroyed. The fighting lasted through roughly a century, during the years 726–87 and 815–43. When this was over the improvements to the interior of Hagia Sophia continued, one of the most famous mosaics is located on the apse of the church showing Virgin Mary with Jesus as a child.
The second phase of Hagia Sophia’s life began in 1453, when Constantinople was beaten by the armies of Mehmed II, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. The Empire had been in decline for centuries and the Hagia Sophia needed repairs, however, the Ottoman rulers thought that the church was a superb place and decided to convert it into a Mosque. Changes occurred and the mosaics were covered in yellow paint, apart from that of the Virgin Mary in the apse. The style of the Hagia Sophia, particularly the dome, went on to influence Ottoman architecture, in particular the Blue Mosque, built in Istanbul during the 17th century.
In 1934, the government of Turkey took charge of the Hagia Sophia and turned it into a museum. The Turkish Council of Ministers wanted to share this beautiful sight and thought that a museum would please the entire Eastern world and could be admired by all – they were certainly right, it has gone on to become one of the top tourist attractions in Istanbul.
The entrance fee to Hagia Sophia costs TL25 and it is closed all day on a Monday, but open from April to October 9am – 7pm and November to March 9am – 4.30pm.