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Hagia Sophia, Turkish Ayasofya, Latin Sancta Sophia, also called Church of the Holy

Wisdom or Church of the Divine Wisdom, cathedral built at Constantinople (now


Istanbul, Turkey) in the 6th century ce (532537) under the direction of the
Byzantine emperor Justinian I. By general consensus, it is the most important
Byzantine structure and one of the worlds great monuments.

The Hagia Sophia combines a longitudinal basilica and a centralized building in a


wholly original manner, with a huge 105-foot (32-metre) main dome supported on
pendentives and two semidomes, one on either side of the longitudinal axis. In plan
the building is almost square. There are three aisles separated by columns with
galleries above and great marble piers rising up to support the dome. The walls
above the galleries and the base of the dome are pierced by windows, which in the
glare of daylight obscure the supports and give the impression that the canopy
floats on air.

The original church on the site of the Hagia Sophia is said to have been built by
Constantine I in 325 on the foundations of a pagan temple. It was damaged in 404 by
a fire that erupted during a riot following the second banishment of St. John
Chrysostom, then patriarch of Constantinople. It was rebuilt and enlarged by the
Roman emperor Constans I. The restored building was rededicated in 415 by
Theodosius II. The church was burned again in the Nika insurrection of January 532,
a circumstance that gave Justinian I an opportunity to envision a splendid
replacement.

The structure now standing is essentially the 6th-century edifice, although an


earthquake caused a partial collapse of the dome in 558 (restored 562) and there
were two further partial collapses, after which it was rebuilt to a smaller scale
and the whole church reinforced from the outside. It was restored again in the mid-
14th century. For more than a millennium it was the Cathedral of the Ecumenical
Patriarchate of Constantinople. It was looted in 1204 by the Venetians and the
Crusaders on the Fourth Crusade. After the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in
1453, Mehmed II had it repurposed as a mosque, with the addition of minarets (on
the exterior, towers used for the summons to prayer), a great chandelier, a mihrab
(niche indicating the direction of Mecca), a minbar (pulpit), and disks bearing
Islamic calligraphy. Kemal Atatrk secularized the building in 1934, and in 1935 it
was made into a museum. Art historians consider the buildings beautiful mosaics to
be the main source of knowledge about the state of mosaic art in the time shortly
after the end of the Iconoclastic Controversy in the 8th and 9th centuries.