Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition exhibition (on view March 14–July 8, 2012) blog.

" />

The Metropolitan Museum of Art LogoEmail

Type the CAPTCHA word:

Hagia Sophia

Stephanie Georgiadis, Intern, Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters

Posted: Friday, March 23, 2012

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

«Hagia Sophia is the Orthodox Patriarchal church located in the former Byzantine capital, Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey). It was originally built in 360 a.d. during the reign of Constantius II, but was destroyed during a period of riots at he beginning of the fifth century. A second basilica with a wooden roof was constructed under the orders of Theodosius II to replace the destroyed structure, but it, too, was destroyed during the Nika Revolt in 532 a.d.» Only a few days after the destruction of the second church, the emperor Justinian I ordered the construction of a larger and more majestic structure. Justinian chose the physicist Isidore of Miletus and the mathematician Anthemius of Tralles as the architects in charge of the project.

Hagia Sophia is best known for its magnificent and massive dome supported by four concave triangular pendentives, making the whole structure appear to float. A dome this size was not re-created until a thousand years later, when Filippo Brunelleschi created the Duomo in the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. Hagia Sophia contained materials from all over the empire that highlighted the wealth and prosperity of the Byzantine kingdom. The interior was richly decorated with frescoes and mosaics, and the church possessed liturgical objects that were famed for their beauty and craftsmanship. During the Iconoclastic era, plaster covered many of the church's mosaics that contained images of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and emperors or empresses. The building was a feat of such power that when Justinian saw it for the first time he is said to have uttered the phrase "Solomon, I have surpassed you" (Νενίκηκά σε Σολομών). After Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans in 1453, Hagia Sophia was used as a mosque. In 1935 Mustafa Kemal Atatürk converted it to a museum.


  • nevzat aytekin says:

    Very enlightening article. But there must be a mistake in the last sentence. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was died in 1938. I guess it converted to museum in 1935. Best regards, and thanks.

    Posted: April 2, 2012, 4:50 a.m.

  • Eileen Willis says:

    @nevzat aytekin-- Thank you for your correction! The post has been updated.

    Posted: April 13, 2012, 10:54 a.m.

  • ZiadElsheimy says:

    How come one of the temples is purple and not like the other three temples

    Posted: January 7, 2013, 6:53 p.m.

  • David Portnoy says:

    What is the ancient historical source for Justinian's exclamation Νενίκηκά σε Σολομών?

    Posted: April 7, 2014, 1:33 p.m.

  • Constance Alchermes says:

    David, the quotation comes from the Narratio de Sancta Sophia, 27, which can be found in Cyril Mango’s "Art of the Byzantine Empire 312–1453: Sources and Documents." Unfortunately, Mango does not translate the whole passage, but that can be found in Theodorus Praeger’s "Scriptores originum Constantinoploitanarum." Rowland Mainstone begins "Hagia Sophia: Architecture, Structure and Liturgy of Justinian’s Great Church" with the full quotation translated into English and furthers Mango’s claim that it’s a "semi-legendary account," and thus should not be taken at face value.

    Posted: April 21, 2014, 9:59 a.m.

Post a Comment

We welcome your participation! Please note that while lively discussion and strong opinions are encouraged, the Museum reserves the right to delete comments that it deems inappropriate for any reason. Comments are moderated and publication times may vary.

*Required fields

Follow This Blog: Subscribe

About the Author

Stephanie Georgiadis is an intern in the Museum's Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. She studied archaeology at Boston University and is interested in the study of classical revival in the Byzantine culture. Stephanie has participated in excavations in the Greek world—most notably in the excavation of the Athenian Agora by the American School of Classical Studies.

About this Blog

This blog accompanied the special exhibition Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, on view March 14–July 8, 2012.