The most iconic building in Istanbul, Hagia Sophia, is an antique place of worship, a symbol of art and political power. Located on the western bank of Bosporus, the beautiful dome and huge minarets of Hagia Sophia dominates the scenery of the western bank of Istanbul. There’s much more about Hagia Sophia other than beautiful artwork. Here is the fascinating history of political conflicts, nationalist sparkle, and religious disputes.
The century-long history of the Hagia Sophia had seen the rise and fall of great empires of the past. The iconic building was built in 537 B.C by the order of the Byzantine emperor (also called Eastern Roman Empire), named Emperor Justinian I. And since then, it has become the jewel of Istanbul (then known as Constantinople).
Many believed that it was named after the saint whose name was Sophia. However, according to the Greek historian, Stathakopoulos: the Hagia Sophia means the ‘Holy Wisdom’ in Greek, which was used to describe the existence of God.
Hagia Sophia had been a church for almost 900 years, until in 1453, when the Ottoman Emperor named Sultan Mehmed II captured Constantinople, ended the Byzantine Rule, and renamed the city Istanbul.
Mehmed II was fascinated by the architect of the church. And so, decided to renovate and convert it into a mosque. Therefore, Hagia Sophia became the first mosque in Istanbul until the construction of the Blue Mosque in 1616, which was highly influenced by the design of Hagia Sophia.
By the end of the first World War, the powerful Ottoman Empire came to an end, after its territory was distributed among the War winning allies. The modern secular state of Turkey was then born, under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Therefore, after 500 hundred years of being a mosque, Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum by the order of the then President Kemal in 1935.
The museum included the legacies of the past civilization of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires while reflecting the secular character of the country. Since then, Hagia Sophia has been the most visited tourist spot for Turkey, hosting around 2 million tourists each year.
Now, 85 years later, Turkey’s current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reconverted the museum into a mosque. The top court of Turkey revoked the status of the museum, stating the 1934 cabinet decision was illegal.
The international community condemned Turkey’s decision. In response to the ruling, the United States, Greece, Russia, and UNESCO had expressed concerns and called for dialogue with Turkey. Erdogan has rejected such criticism, calling it an attack on Turkey’s sovereignty.
Whether church, museum, or a mosque, Hagia Sophia will remain one of the world’s great monuments. The iconic building reflects the political conflicts, religious dominance, and legacies of the medieval civilizations. Containing Islamic inscriptions and the lavish mosaic of Christianity, the history of Hagia Sophia is as fascinating as its mesmerizing artwork.