Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ayasofya Müzesi - Hagia Sophia (Divine Wisdom)

This is my last post of the year and I want to dedicate it to the Divine Wisdom - Hagia Sophia, the 6th century church, one of the most beautiful monuments in the world.  It is such a pleasure to do this photo trek and at the same time I feel lucky to be able to admire the beauty of this place.   I just wish to freeze this magical admosphere.  Be patient, decide the composition,  no tripod aloud so it will take time and lots of adjustments of light.  The visit could take two or three hours at least so plan all morning.  Is open everyday except for Mondays. It is easier to visit it in winter and incredibly crowd in summers.

Winter view of Hagia Sophia

Dedicated to Divine Wisdom, the Church of Hagia Sophia is one of the most important architectural structures in the world.  Completed between 532 and 537 during which time 10,000 workers and 100 masters had a hand in the work.  The church was designed by two of the must important architects of the time, the mathematician and physicist Anthemius of Tralles and mechanic İsidore of Miletus. 

Hagi Sophia's view in fall.

Justantinian's church was not the first to stand on the site.  The Emperor Constantius had had a church erected here in 360 but it was destroyed during fire in 404.  In 415 Theodisius II paid for a new church whitc has destroyed during the Rika Riot of 532.  Almost immediatly Justinian determine to replace it with something more splendid.   Hagia Sophia was buit in five years, 10 months and 24 days. It was completed on the 26th of December 537.

Hagia Sophia's view in summer.

To get an idea of what Hagia Sophia originally looked like you must first stand in Sultanahmet Square and mentally strip away many of the later additions to the building starting in the four minerates that were gradually added after it was converted into a mosque.  Away, too, will have to go the hefty buttresses that were added in 1317 when it looked as if the building might collapse, it was strenghtened by Sinan.  Once you have done all this you will appreciate that it was the interior of the original church rather than its clumpsy exterior that made it so exceptional.

Side view of Hagia Sophia.


The Interior

The current structure was constructed by Isidoros (Milet) and Anthemios (Tralles), who were renowned architects of their time, by Emperor Justinianos’s (527-565) orders. Information from historian Prokopios states that the construction that began on February 23, 532, was completed in a short period of five years and the church was opened to worship with a ceremony on December 27, 537. Resources show that on the opening day of the Hagia Sophia, Emperor Justinianos entered the temple and said, “My Lord, thank you for giving me chance to create such a worshipping place,” and followed with the words “Süleyman, I beat you,” referring to Süleyman’s temple in Jerusalem.

During the East Roman period, the Hagia Sophia was the Empire Church and, as a result, was the place in which the emperors were crowned. The area that is on the right of the naos, where the flooring is covered with colorful stones creating an intertwining circular design (omphalion), is the section in which the Eastern Roman Emperors were crowned.

Colorful stones in the floor indicating were Emperors were crowned.

Istanbul was occupied by Latins between 1204 and 1261, during the Holy Crusades, when both the city and the church were damaged. The Hagia Sophia was known to be in bad condition in 1261, when Eastern Rome took over the city again.

Virgin Mary Mosaic.

Following Fatih Sultan Mehmed’s (1451-1481) conquer in 1453, Hagia Sophia was renovated into a mosque. The structure was fortified and was well protected after this period, and remained as a mosque. Additional supporting pillars were installed during the East Roman and Ottoman periods as a result of the damage that the structure experienced due to earthquakes in the region. The minarets designed and implemented by Mimar Sinan have also served to this purpose.



As one of the major elements of the traditional mosque architecture, altar is a recessed segment in mosques, prayer rooms, and outdoor prayer areas which is higher than surroundings and faced to the direction of Mecca that imam having community behind him stands in front of it during prayer. Ottoman Sultans made some repairs and additions to the altar in the southeast of the main place of the traditional Hagia Sophia Museum.

Altar faced to the Mecca.

The altar of the Hagia Sophia renovated in the 19th century is a marble example having a polygonal alcove decorated with a decorative figure of the sun and stars covered by a half-domed mesh. Plenty of gilts are used in the altar encircled by a wide border decorated with acanthus leafs with convoluted branches and it has an imposing cap stone.

Candelabras both sides of the altar.

The candelabras are places at both sides of the altar brought from the court church of the Hungarian King Matthias I by the Grand Vizier İbrahim Pasha during the conquest of Buda by the Hungary run in the era of Suleiman the Magnificent.




Minbar is a pulpit in the mosque where the imam (leader of prayer) stands to deliver sermons on Fridays. Minbar is at right hand side of the altar in Hagia Sophia and build in the period of Sultan Murad III. It is one of the best marble workmanship of 16th century Ottoman era.




The most important difference in Hagia Sophia’s architectural design is that its size and measurements are much larger than other churches, and the central dome is much bigger and higher. The dome that is over the central space is 55.60 m. from ground level, 31.87 m. from North to South and 30.87 m. from East to West. When constructing Hagia Sophia, architects have used marble, stone and special bricks that were light yet durable, specially made of Rhodes soil.


The dome that appeared compressed and spread out when it was first constructed, has been damaged in August 553 and December 557 due to earthquakes and in May 7, 558 the Eastern part of the dome has completely fallen apart. The renovation of the dome has been carried out by İsidoros’ nephew, young İsidoros. İsidoros has solved the problem by installing support systems through external braces and assisted the structure by adding forty windows and increasing the lenght of the dome by seven meters to make it smaller and lighter.

Dome and semidomes.

Hagia Sophia has survived a big fire in 859 and an earthquake in 869. The dome has collapsed after an earthquake in 989 and has been repaired. Due to the earthquakes in 1344 and 1346 a part of the dome and parts of the arch have collapsed and have been repaired.


The renovation process that has started by Fatih Sultan Mehmed during the Ottoman period has been continued by the following Sultans as well. The most important repair conducted in Hagia Sophia was by Sultan Abdulmecid’s (1839–1861) orders in 1847-1849 by the Swiss Fossati brothers. This repair included the filling of large cracks on the dome as well as securing the dome’s rim by implementing steel circles. During the renovations, one of the most important calligraphist’s of his time, Kazasker Mustafa İzzet Efendi has written the 35th verse of the quran on the main dome.

The Emperor's Door with the VI Leon Mosaic on top.



VI Leon Mosaic.

The Pantakrator mosaic embellished with a Jesus figure, placed on the Emperor Door presents Jesus hallowing with his right hand and holding an open bible with his left hand. Written on the bible are the Greek words ‘May Peace Be with You.I Am the Divine Light’. The right medallion holds the figure of Gabriel while the left medallion holds one of Virgin Mary. Below the feet of Christ, in a prayer position is Emperor Leon VI. ( 816- 912) of Eastern Rome. The mosaic dates back to the 10th century.

Mosaic showing Constantine on the roght and Justinian on the left of the Virgen Mary.

Located in the inner narthex, on the Southern vestibule door is one of Hagia Sophia’s most prominent figured mosaics. This mosaic was discovered during the repair process that Fossati held in 1849. The base of the symmetrical mosaic panel is composed of gold leafs, and features Virgin Mary on a backless throne with the words METER and THEOU, an abbreviation stating ‘God Bearer’, engraved on both sides. On Mary’s lap is baby jesus. On her left is the creator of the city, Emperor Konstantinos I. holding a maquette representative of İstanbul. On the side of Emperor Konstantinos written vertically in bold blue letters in Greek are the words ‘Among the Saints is Great Emperor Konstantinos’. To the right of Mary is Emperor Justinianos presenting them with a maquette of Hagia Sophia. Next to this figure, are the words ‘Famous Emperor Justinianos’ written vertically in bold blue letters.The maquettes presented to Virgin Mary by Emperor Konstantinos and Emperor Justianianos portrays the role of ‘protector’ Virgin Mary holds towards the church and the city. The mosaic panel dates back to the 10th century.

Apse Mosaic.

In the centre of the quarter dome is the figure of Virgin Mary (Theotokos) seated on a throne with jewelled cushions, holding baby Jesus. This mosaic is significant as it is the first figured mosaic created following the iconoclasm period of Hagia Sophia. The mosaic dates back to the 9th century.

Two angels on the Apses.

On the right of the apses arch is a Gabriel mosaic, and on the left is a Mikhael mosaic. Only the wing and the edge of Mikhael’s feet are visible in present day. The mosaics date back to the second half of the 9th century.

Dome angels figures.

The pendentives feature four unidentical angel figures. It is believed that these one headed six winged angels (seraphim) protect the Lord’s Throne in Heaven. The angels featured in the East are composed of mosaics whereas the two in the West have been damaged during the Eastern Roman period and have been renewed as fresco.

Dome angels figures.

The faces of the angel figures featured on the pendentives were covered up with star shaped metallic lids during the Ottoman period. During the mosaic renovations in 2009, the lids covering the angel figures’ faces were opened and revealed.

Deisis Composition.

On the western wall of Northern gallery, there is the mosaic board where the Deisis stage, considered as the start of renaissance in East Rome painting, is located. In the portrayol, Ioannes Prodromos ( John the Baptist) on the right and Virgin Mary on the left and in the middle Pantocrator Jesus Christ are located. In the mosaic, Virgin Mary and John the Baptist's prayers to Jesus Christ for the mercy of people during the doomsday are portrayed. 

Pantocrator Jesus Christ.

Virgin Mary.

Saint John the Baptists.

Both 3 figures carry the characteristics of Hellenistic Era portrayol art. Deisis board takes attention by the way the mosaic technic and the portrayol have been done. It is a very successful piece in terms of dynamism and color choices. This mosaic is one of the best examples, which main principles of Ancient era painting in East Rome art, are reflected.

There are several debates regarding the exact dating of Deisis Mosaic but the valid date that is currently accepted is the 13th Century.

Kommenos Mosaic.

Emperor II. Ioannes Komnenos, his wife Hugarian origin Eirene and their son II. Aleksios are placed in the mosaic. In the middle of the composition you can see Virgin Mary standing with Jesus Christ in her arms. Writing around the emperor's head says "Emperor of Romans Porphyrogennetos Komnenos" (born in porphyry saloon) and this writing is an indication of loyalty that he was born during his father's reign. The writing around the empress's head says "Religious Augusta Eirene". Empress Eirene was the daughter of Hungarian King Laszlo and she was portrayed as typical Middle European with braided ginger hair, colored eyes, white skinned and ruddy cheeks. On the side of the board you can see Prince II. Aleksios who was partnered to the crown by his father in 1222 and died at a young age from illness. In the mosaic you can see the prince's essential lineaments shrunk and pale face because of the illness. This mosaic board symbolizes the donations made by the emperor's family for the restorations of Hagia Sophia.

Mosaic board dates back to 12th century.

Zoe Mosaic.

Emperor IX. Konstantinos Monomakhos (1042-1055) and Empress Zoe are placed in the mosaic board. The writing on top of Emperor's head says "Romans' Religious Emperor, Servant of God's Jesus Konstantinos Monomakhos". The writing on top of Empress's head says "Devoutly Religious Agusta Zoe". On both sides of Pantocrator Jesus, king of the world, there are the initials of Jesus Christ IC and XC monograms. This mosaic board symbolizes the donations made by the emperor's family for the restorations of Hagia Sophia.

Mosaic board dates back to 11th century.

Kommenos Mosaic and Zoe Mosaic.


Calligraphic Panes of Hagia Sophia

The great rounded calligraphic panes on the walls of the main place had been written by Kadıasker Mustafa İzzet Efendi who was one of the famous calligraphers during the repairs between 1847 and 1849 of Sultan Abdülmecid period (1839-1861). Rounded calligraphic panes with 7.5 meters of diameter are written by gilt on green background made of hemp. There are 8 of these panes containing the names of Allah, Muhammad, and the four caliphs, namely Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali as well as the grandsons of Muhammad, namely Hasan and Husayn. The wooden hangers of the panes are made of lime since it is light and durable. The calligraphic panes are the largest ones in the Islamic world.

Panes containing the names of Allah.

Calligraphic panes.

There are 8 of these panes containing the names of Allah, Muhammad, and the four caliphs.

he calligraphic panes are the largest ones in the Islamic world.

Calligraphic Panes in Altar Section.

There are calligraphic panes belonging to Ottoman Sultans on the right wall of the altar in Hagia Sophia.  The writers of these panes in top down order:

1st calligraphic pane, Sultan Mahmud II (1808-1839)

2nd calligraphic pane, Sultan Mahmud II (1808-1839)

3rd calligraphic pane, Sultan Ahmed III (1703-1730)

4th calligraphic pane, Sultan Mustafa II (1695-1703)
5th calligraphic pane, Sultan Mustafa II (1695-1703)

Calligraphic panes belonging to Ottoman Sultans.

As for the left wall of the altar, there are panes written by the famous calligraphers of the day. The left one is written by Calligrapher Mehmed Esad Yesari (1797), while the right one is written by Calligrapher Veliyyüddin Efendi who was the chief religious official as well.


Tiles of Hagia Sophia

Tiles around the Narthex.

“Ayetü'l Kürsi “ the 255th verse of Bakara Sura is written by polished thuluth (celi sülüs) on the cobalt blue ceramic belt surrounding all along the wall behind the altar. A script of "Ketebehu El Fakir Muhammed 1016" is written in a red rosette with white contour at the end of tile belt.
There are tile panes in the narthexes at the left and right of the altar.

There is tile panel on the left narthex with plant patterns belonging to Old Sultan’s Loge contains İznik Tiles dated to 16th century.

There are two portrayals on the pane in the right narthex. One of them is the portrayal of Kaabe in eight pieces; the other one is demonstrating the Tomb of Muhammad. It has been understood that, Turkish ceramics art had been reached its peak point in 16th and 17th centuries.


Bell of Hagia Sophia.


Entrance to the upper Gallery

Entrance hall.

Entrance to the Upper Gallery.

Stone ramp to the Upper Gallery.


The Upper Gallery

Mosaic in the upper gallery.

Jesus Christ Pantocrator.

View of Sultanahmet from one of the Hagia Sophia's window.

Second floor gallery.

Hall second floor gallery.

View of Sultanahmet from one of the Hagia Sophia's window.

 View of Marmaray sea from one of the Hagia Sophia's window.

Stairs to the first floor.


First Floor halls

First Floor halls.

First Floor halls.


Wishing column.

Wishing column.

There is a column with a hole in the middle covered by bronze plates at the northwest of the building which was also named as the perspiring column or the wishing column. In some references, it is indicated that this column had become blessed in due course among community. Rumors appeared in East-Roman period that it had a healing effect on humans. The legend has it that, Emperor Justinian wandering in the building with a severe headache leaned his head to this column and after a while he realized that the headache was gone. This story had been heard among the public and the rumor regarding the healing effect of the column got around. Hence, people believed that they would get better if they put their fingers into that hole on the column and then rub them to the place where disease is felt. According to another legend, this wetness is described as the tear of Virgin Mary.

As for the Ottoman period, when the Hagia Sophia was transformed into a mosque, Fatih Sultan Mehmed and his retinue prostrated themselves for the first friday prayer by the imamate of Master Akşemseddin, however, they had no matter be able to start the prayer, since the direction of the building was not faced to Kaaba. There is a rumor that, Deus Ex Machina appeared just at that moment and tried to turn the building to face Kaaba, but he was witnessed by a citizen, so he had to disappear without being able to turn the mosque. As for today, people make their wishes by rotating their thumb a complete clockwise tour inside the hole.


Marble Cubes

Cubes of monolithic marble.

Two pieces of cubes made of monolithic marbles at the lateral naves in the building belong to Hellenistic Period (BC 330-30) and had been brought from Bergama antique city. These cubes have been brought to Hagia Sophia in the period of Sultan Murad III (1574-1595) and can contain 1250 liters of liquid in average. They had been used for distributing juice to the public for holy nights and celebration prayers in the mosque period. The cubes have taps at their lower parts for consuming water in other days.


The Emperor's Door (entrance)

The Emperors door. 

 It is the largest door of Hagia Sophia dated to 6th century, which provides passing to the main structure from the inner narthex section. The Emperor door is 7 meters in length and made of oak and has a bronze frame. The leaves of the door are coated by bronze plates. The door had been used only by the Emperor and his retinue. East-Roman references says the door could be made of the woods of Noah's ark or the wood of the chest of which the Jewish holy plates kept in.

The Emperor's door.  Bronze frame.

The Marble Door

The south galleria which was used for solemn meetings by patriarchate officials is separated from west galleria by a marble door. The door is viewed as two individual doors from the west galleria and there are plant, fruit and fish motives in panels on its surface. It is rumored that one side of the door represents paradise while the other one represents hell. The site entered through the door was used as a venue for solemn meetings and important resolutions of patriarchate officials as well as resolutions regarding to religious affairs of the state since Hagia Sophia was an imperial church. The Synode Assembly of Emperor Manuel Komnenos Period is known to be gathered here also in 1166. The resolutions of the meeting written on marble plates are hanged on the wall of exterior narthex.


The Nice Door (exit door)

 Vision of the Sunu mosaic from a mirror above the frame door.

It is the oldest architectural element which had been used as compilation in Hagia Sofia which is dated to the B.C. 2nd century and located at south exit of inner narthex. The door is decorated with plant and geometric relief designs had been removed from a pagan temple belonging to the Ancient Period in Cydnus and brought by Empire Theophilos (829-842) and placed to its current location in 838. The Emperors of the East-Roman period was entering into inner narthex through this door known as the Nice Door or the Vestibule Door and passing to the main structure therefrom in royal ceremonies. The scripture of "God and Christ Help Us", the words of Emperor Theodosius, Emperor Michael, Emperor Theophilos, Empress Theodora and Michael Niktion and monograms representing the year 838 are written on the bronze door leaves.
As you leave the museum via the side door from the narthex be sure to turn around and look up at the magnificent 10th-century mosaic of the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child sitting on her lap; the Emperor Constantine is offering her a stylized model of his city while the Emperor Justinian holds out a model of the Church.  

As you leave you will be waling through  the Vestibule of the Warriors where the emperor would have left his vrown and sword before entering the nave, and where his bodyguard would have awaited his return. 


The exterior

The fountain.

Hagia Sophia Fountain built by Sultan Mahmud I (1730 - 1754) in 1740 is a masterpiece of Ottoman Architecture and one of the largest and most beautiful fountains in Istanbul. It is covered by a dome and an eave mounted on eight columns with muqarnas headings and eight arches. On the dome, there are a bronze tulip scripture of "Allah" written by carving in stack on top and a mirror scripture of "Muhammed" below and an "eulogium" on the upper and inner part of marble arcade. The fountain has 16 slices and each slice have bronze taps in the middle. There are tulip-shape bronze banners containing the scripture of "We have created everything from water" on the upper part of the joining section of sliced bronze water mains over the taps.

Four minarets.

Minarets are structures designed higher than the main building and constructed for notifying invitation for prayer and for announcements.

Fatih Sultan Mehmed had made a wooden minaret over one of the half domes right after converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque. This minaret did not manage to reach the present day. The brick minaret at the southeast can be dated to Fatih Sultan Mehmed period or Beyazıd II period in terms of its order. The minaret at the Bab-ı Humayun side is estimated to be built by Architect Sinan in Selim II period based on the similarity with the minarets of Selimiye Mosque in Edirne. As for the identical minarets at the southwest and northwest direction, they are built by Architect Sinan in Sultan Murat III period. With their 60 meters of height as well as their thick and massif patterns, they are completing main structure of Hagia Sophia. Various ornaments are added on these minarets at repairs carried out in 15th, 16th, and 19th centuries reflecting the characteristics of their periods.

Facade of the Church of Theodosios.

The courtyard


Western Facade of the Church of Theodosios.

Columns of the Church of Theodosios.


Skyline of Istanbul

My favorite part of crossing the Bosphorus from Kadikoy to Eminonu, that is when I get to see the skyline of Istanbul with Sultanahmet, Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace from the sea.  Here are some of my favorite views of Istanbul.

Skyline of Istanbul.

  Hagia Sophia from Kadiköy Ferry

 Hagia Sophia from Karakoy.

 Happy New Year 2015!!! I hope you enjoyed the views! 

Soreya Reyes

Twitter:  @street_photos_

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