Description of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The history of a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture

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Description of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The history of a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture
Description of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. The history of a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture

This grandiose architectural structure on the banks of the Bosphorus attracts many tourists and pilgrims every year from many countries and from different continents. They are driven by the realization of the fact that a simple description of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople from a school history textbook does not give a complete picture of this outstanding cultural monument of the ancient world. It must be seen with your own eyes at least once in your life.

From the history of the ancient world

Even the most detailed description of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople will not provide a complete picture of this architectural phenomenon. Without a consistent consideration of the series of historical eras through which he happened to pass, it is unlikely that he will be able to realize the full importance of this place. Before it appeared before our eyes in the state in which modern tourists can see it, a lot of water flowed under the bridge.

This cathedral was originally built asthe highest spiritual symbol of Byzantium, a new Christian power that arose on the ruins of ancient Rome in the fourth century AD. But the history of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople began even before the collapse of the Roman Empire into the western and eastern parts. This city itself, located on a strategically important border between Europe and Asia, needed a bright symbol of spiritual and civilizational greatness. Emperor Constantine I the Great understood this like no one else. And it was only in the power of the monarch to begin the construction of this grandiose structure, which had no analogues in the ancient world.

Description of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople
Description of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople

The date of foundation of the temple is forever connected with the name and reign of this emperor. Even despite the fact that the actual authors of the cathedral were other people who lived much later, during the reign of Emperor Justinian. From historical sources, we know two names of these major architects of their era. These are the Greek architects Anfimy of Trall and Isidore of Miletus. It is they who own the authorship of both the engineering and construction and the artistic part of a single architectural project.

How the temple was built

Description of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, the study of its architectural features and stages of construction inevitably leads to the idea that the original plan for its construction has changed significantly under the influence of various political and economic circumstances. There were no structures of this scale in the Roman Empire before.

Historical sources claim that the date of foundationCathedral - 324 year from the birth of Christ. But what we see today began to be built about two centuries after that date. From the buildings of the fourth century, the founder of which was Constantine I the Great, only the foundations and individual architectural fragments have survived. What stood on the site of the modern Hagia Sophia was called the Basilica of Constantine and the Basilica of Theodosius. Emperor Justinian, who ruled in the middle of the sixth century, was faced with the task of erecting something new and hitherto unseen.

Byzantine temples
Byzantine temples

Really amazing is the fact that the grandiose construction of the cathedral lasted only five years, from 532 to 537. More than ten thousand workers, mobilized from all over the empire, worked on the construction at the same time. For this, the best grades of marble from Greece were delivered to the shores of the Bosphorus in the required quantity. Emperor Justinian spared no funds for the construction, since not only was he erected a symbol of the state majesty of the Eastern Roman Empire, but also the Temple to the glory of the Lord. He was supposed to bring the light of the Christian doctrine to the whole world.

From historical sources

Description of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople can be found in the early historical chronicles of the Byzantine court chroniclers. From them it is clear that the grandeur and grandeur of this structure made an indelible impression on contemporaries.

Many believed that it was absolutely impossible to build such a cathedral without the direct intervention of divine forces. The main dome of the greatestthe Christian temple of the ancient world was visible from afar to all sailors in the Sea of Marmara, approaching the Bosphorus Strait. It served as a kind of beacon, and this also had a spiritual and symbolic meaning. This was originally conceived: Byzantine churches were supposed to outshine with their grandeur everything that was built before them.

Cathedral interior

The overall composition of the temple space is subject to the laws of symmetry. This principle was the most important even in ancient temple architecture. But in terms of its volume and level of execution of the interiors, the Temple of Sophia in Constantinople significantly exceeds everything that was built before it. Just such a task was set before the architects and builders by Emperor Justinian. By his will, from many cities of the empire, ready-made columns and other architectural elements taken from pre-existing ancient structures were delivered to the decoration of the temple. Of particular difficulty was the dome completion.

istanbul city
istanbul city

The grandiose main dome was supported by an arched colonnade with forty window openings providing overhead illumination of the entire temple space. The altar part of the cathedral was finished with special care; a significant amount of gold, silver and ivory was used to decorate it. According to Byzantine historiographers and modern experts, Emperor Justinian spent several annual budgets of his country only on the interior of the cathedral. In his ambitions, he wanted to surpass the Old Testament king Solomon, who built the Temple in Jerusalem. These words of the emperor were recorded by court chroniclers. And there isevery reason to believe that Emperor Justinian succeeded in carrying out his intention.

Byzantine style

The St. Sophia Cathedral, whose photos now grace the promotional merchandise of many travel agencies, is a classic embodiment of the imperial Byzantine style in architecture. This style is easily recognizable. With its monumental grandeur, it certainly goes back to the best traditions of imperial Rome and Greek antiquity, but it is simply impossible to confuse this architecture with something else.

Byzantine temples can be easily found at a considerable distance from historical Byzantium. This direction of temple architecture is still the predominant architectural style throughout the territory, where the Orthodox branch of world Christianity has historically dominated.

Konstantin I the Great
Konstantin I the Great

These structures are characterized by massive domed completions above the central part of the building and arched colonnades below them. The architectural features of this style have been developed over the centuries and have become an integral part of Russian temple architecture. Today, not everyone even realizes that its source is located on the shore of the Bosphorus Strait.

Unique mosaics

The icons and mosaic frescoes from the walls of Hagia Sophia have become world-famous classics of fine art. Roman and Greek canons of monumental painting are easily visible in their compositional constructions.

The frescoes of Hagia Sophia were created over two centuries. Several generations of craftsmen worked on them and manyicon painting schools. The mosaic technique itself has a much more complex technology compared to the traditional tempera painting on wet plaster. All elements of mosaic frescoes were created by masters according to only one known rules, which were not allowed to the uninitiated. It was both slow and very costly, but the Byzantine emperors did not spare funds for the interior of the Hagia Sophia. The masters had nowhere to hurry, because what they created had to survive many centuries. The height of the walls and roofing elements of the cathedral created a particular difficulty in creating mosaic frescoes.

founding date
founding date

The viewer was forced to see the figures of saints in a complex perspective reduction. Byzantine icon painters were the first in the history of world fine art who had to take this factor into account. Before them, no one had such experience. And they coped with the task with dignity, this can be evidenced by many thousands of tourists and pilgrims who annually visit St. Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul.

During the long period of Ottoman rule, Byzantine mosaics on the walls of the temple were covered with a layer of plaster. But after the restoration work carried out in the thirties of the twentieth century, they appeared to the eye in almost their original form. And today, visitors to the Hagia Sophia can see Byzantine frescoes depicting Christ and the Virgin Mary, interspersed with calligraphic quotes from the Koran.

To the legacy of the Islamic period in the history of the cathedral, the restorers also treated with respect. It is interesting to note andthe fact that some Orthodox saints on mosaic frescoes were given by icon painters a portrait resemblance to ruling monarchs and other influential people of their era. In the following centuries, this practice will become common in the construction of Catholic cathedrals in the largest cities of medieval Europe.

Vaults of the Cathedral

The St. Sophia Cathedral, the photo of which is taken away from the banks of the Bosphorus by tourists, acquired its characteristic silhouette not least thanks to the grandiose domed completion. The dome itself has a relatively small height with an impressive diameter. This ratio of proportions will later be included in the architectural canon of the Byzantine style. Its height from the foundation level is 51 meters. It will be surpassed in size only in the Renaissance, during the construction of the famous St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome.

Special expressiveness of the vault of St. Sophia Cathedral is given by two domed hemispheres, located from the west and from the east of the main dome. With their outlines and architectural elements, they repeat it and, on the whole, create a single composition of the cathedral vault.

sophia cathedral photo
sophia cathedral photo

All these architectural discoveries of ancient Byzantium were subsequently used many times in temple architecture, in the construction of cathedrals in the cities of medieval Europe, and then throughout the world. In the Russian Empire, the Byzantine dome of the Hagia Sophia found a very vivid reflection in the architectural appearance of the Naval Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Kronstadt. Like the famous temple on the shores of the Bosphorus, it should have been visible to everyone from the sea.sailors approaching the capital, thus symbolizing the greatness of the empire.

The End of Byzantium

As you know, any empire reaches its peak, and then moves towards degradation and decline. This fate did not pass by Byzantium. The Eastern Roman Empire collapsed in the middle of the fifteenth century under the weight of its own internal contradictions and under the growing onslaught of external enemies. The last Christian service in the Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople took place on May 29, 1453. This day was the last for the capital of Byzantium itself. The empire that had existed for almost a thousand years was defeated on that day under the onslaught of the Ottoman Turks. Constantinople also ceased to exist. Now it is the city of Istanbul, for several centuries it was the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The conquerors of the city broke into the temple at the time of worship, brutally de alt with those who were there, and ruthlessly plundered the treasures of the cathedral. But the Ottoman Turks were not going to destroy the building itself - the Christian temple was destined to become a mosque. And this circumstance could not but affect the appearance of the Byzantine cathedral.

Dome and minarets

During the Ottoman Empire, the appearance of the Hagia Sophia underwent significant changes. The city of Istanbul was supposed to have a cathedral mosque corresponding to the status of the capital. The building of the temple that existed in the fifteenth century corresponded to this goal by no means ideally. Prayers in the mosque should be performed in the direction of Mecca, while the Orthodox church is oriented with the altar to the east. The Ottoman Turks carried out reconstructionof the temple they inherited - they attached rough buttresses to the historical building to strengthen the load-bearing walls and built four large minarets in accordance with the canons of Islam. Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul became known as Hagia Sophia Mosque. A mihrab was built in the southeastern part of the interior, so the praying Muslims had to be located at an angle to the axis of the building, leaving the altar part of the temple on the left.

sophia cathedral in istanbul
sophia cathedral in istanbul

In addition, the walls of the cathedral with icons were plastered. But this is what made it possible to restore the authentic wall paintings of the temple in the nineteenth century. They are well preserved under a layer of medieval plaster. Sophia Cathedral in Istanbul is also unique in that the heritage of two great cultures and two world religions - Orthodox Christianity and Islam - is bizarrely intertwined in its external appearance and internal content.

Hagia Sofya Museum

In 1935, the building of the Hagia Sophia mosque was removed from the category of cults. This required a special decree of Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. This progressive step made it possible to put an end to the claims to the historical building of representatives of different religions and confessions. The leader of Turkey was also able to indicate his distance from all sorts of clerical circles.

From the state budget, work was financed and carried out to restore the historic building and the area around it. The necessary infrastructure has been equipped to receive a large flow of tourists from different countries. Currently Hagia Sophia in Istanbulis one of the most important cultural and historical sights of Turkey. In 1985, the temple was included in the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List as one of the most significant material objects in the history of the development of human civilization. Getting to this attraction in the city of Istanbul is very simple - it is located in the prestigious Sultanahmet district and is visible from afar.

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