There’s no other place in the world that I can think of that has shared and witnessed momentous events in the history of man other than the temple that has stood in the boundaries of Europe and Asia for more than 1500 years, the HAGIA SOPHIA. Known in Latin as Sancta Sophia, in Turkish as Ayasofya, the Church of the Holy Wisdom (Greek Agia Sofia) still stands proud, seemingly frozen in time, at the old city district of what we now know as Istanbul in Turkey.
A sacred ground for as long as written records can remember, the site and Hagia Sophia itself has gone from being a pagan temple, to a Christian basilica; to being the center of Greek Orthodoxy, to being a Catholic Church; back again to being a Greek Orthodox Church and to being a Muslim Mosque – the Hagia Sophia indeed is a Temple of the World.
A witness to turning points in history that has shaped the modern day world, Hagia Sophia has witnessed great events in terms of religion: it was a place for some of the Great Councils of the Christian Church though ironically it also saw how the once single Christendom got divided: from the separation of Copts of Egypt, to Arianism, to the Monophysite crisis, to the Iconoclasm period, to the separation of the Greek Orthodox East and the Roman Catholic West in the Great Schism (it was on very doors of Hagia Sophia that the Roman Catholic Cardinal envoy to Constantinople nailed the notice of excommunication from the Pope for all that did not follow the Roman Catholic Rite).
Hagia Sophia doesn’t also come short in terms of world history itself: from the relocation of the capital of the Roman Empire by Constantine the Great from Rome to Constantinople (old name of Istanbul), to the Golden Age of Byzantium under Justinian the Great, to the reconquest of the Eastern/Byzantine Roman Empire of some of its territories in what was once the Western Roman Empire, now overrun by barbarian hordes; to the first and definitely not the last Arab attempts to conquer Europe, to the Byzantine Empire being the most powerful state and guiding light of Europe in the Dark Ages till the Medieval Ages, to Alexius’ Comnenus call for help which sparked the Crusades to the Holy Land, to the Christian against Christian bloodshed of 1204, to the Gunpowder Age when the Ottoman Turks finally conquered the Queen of Cities in 1453.
The Hagia Sophia indeed is the Temple of the World.
Given that introduction, it must be obvious how sky-high my fascination is with Hagia Sophia. Reading about it before (and even after) my trip to Turkey, I’ve tried to squeeze in all the information I know about the temple and it simply can’t be helped not having a somewhat long story given its millennium-and-a-half existence and importance. Making my way toward Hagia Sophia on my second day in Istanbul sent shivers to my spine – finally, I was there!
– The Entrance to Hagia Sophia –
I actually went to Hagia Sophia twice. The first was, as I said, on my 2nd day in Istanbul, and the second time was around 4 days after when we were brought back to the city from our exploration of the Asia Minor Turkey. The first time was with a group tour and was quick, just an hour or so and we weren’t even shown around the whole area leaving myself wanting to go back on my own with my trusted Turkey Travel Book, checking my list of what to see in Hagia Sophia, which I did – and since I enjoyed my second visit more and its more complete, its the one that I will be sharing with you.
Arriving at the gate of the Hagia Sophia grounds, I bought a ticket from the ticket booth (the first time, our tour guide provided us with pre-bought tickets) which costed me around 20-30 Turkish Lira if I remember it right. There was kinda a long queue but it went on fast so I found myself in the security checking area, complete with X-ray machines and body-frisking (which I think is really a necessary precaution in trying to protect such a precious treasure). Camera tripods are left in the security area and you are given a number card to use when claiming it back upon leaving the premises.
Walking along, there I was, just stunned in the magnificence of Hagia Sophia. Looking at all the almost bare masonry at its facade, it may be hard to imagine that before, all of it was covered with shining polished marble brought from all over the Byzantine Empire. The minarets were added when the church was converted into a mosque in the Ottoman Period.
And at the course of its long history, though it was built to be earthquake proof by the two teams of builders (one from the north and one from the south side) under the two architects who were the brainchild of this magnificent structure, Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, putting up buttresses to support the building’s weight and that of its massive dome became a literal matter of life and death for the building (which was notorious for always trying to implode on itself; add in all the earthquakes that strike the region). So aesthetics were sacrificed and a number of asymmetrical buttresses were placed around the building over the centuries, hiding the real beauty of Hagia Sophia.
This explains why the facade seems to be too plain for a building so grand.
Originally, the facade had a square enclosed by a grand colonnaded atrium but that is all gone now and all we can do is think of a mental picture of how splendid it must have looked like when it was inaugurated back on the 27th day of December on the year 537 (taking barely 5 years to complete – an amazing feat back in those days).
The main public entrance to the Hagia Sophia at present used to be the Imperial Entrance – only the Emperor and entourage were allowed to pass through it – so feel free to feel like royalty when passing beneath these great doorways!
However, before you do enter the building, take notice of the slabs of marble lying on the ground.
These are what remains of the Theodosian Hagia Sophia, the structure that preceded the Hagia Sophia that we see now.
Of all this ornately carved marble, the most interesting ones are those with the carvings of lambs, representing Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God.
– The Outer Narthex –
The narthex is a part of church buildings in the early Christian & Byzantine Churches and are characteristic parts of most Orthodox Churches still at the present though not part of the church proper – its considered as the entrance/lobby area usually located at the opposite side of the church’s altar. Hagia Sophia itself, being the inspiration for most Orthodox Churches built thereafter and even mosques especially during the Ottoman Period (explains why most people usually think of Hagia Sophia first as a mosque but then realize that it was first built as a church), has not only one but two narthexes: an Exonarthex (outer narthex) and an Esonarthex (inner narthex).
Entering the imperial doors, you are immediately welcomed to the outer narthex or exonarthex of Hagia Sophia. During Byzantine times, the outer narthex was used by those who are not eligible to enter the church yet like those who are still vying for baptism (catechumens) or penitents but still want to hear or at least partly be in the midst of church services.
By looking at the ceiling it becomes evident how true the saying is that “the Greeks really love their bricks”. You can see the intricate bare brickwork that has come to be one of the signature styles of Byzantine Churches – such a exterior eventually became a symbolism of the important tenet of Christianity that is Humility – as I mentioned in my earlier post about Istanbul (click here, here and here for the links), it didn’t matter how you appeared from the outside (if you’re rich, handsome/beautiful, etc.), what matters most is how you were from the inside (your deeds, goodness and love for your fellow men). I can just imagine how the impact would’ve been for new Christians to see such teachings visually in the form of entering Hagia Sophia – this is because the more you get inside the building, the more majestic it becomes.
– The Inner Narthex –
Such is the effect when slowly, the decorations become more lavish once you come inside the inner narthex (esonarthex) from the outer one. Suddenly, the ceilings become brighter, with some part decorated with gold leaf and undulating & repeating patterns. The cornices become more extravagant with beautiful intricate carvings. Your eyes though would be directed to a beautiful mosaic work at the central tympanum, an artwork known as the Christ on a Throne with an Emperor Kneeling Beside Him.
Though unnamed, it is widely believed that the emperor in the mosaic is Byzantine Emperor Leo VI wise. Immensely educated, being the reason for his name, his reign was was blemished by his scandalous marriages, he married four times due to failure to produce an heir (back in those days, a third marriage was illegal). Being hesitant at first, the church eventually accepted his fourth marriage that bore him a son, but with the promise of penance & declaring that future fourth marriages would be deemed illegal. That is why we see a penitent emperor begging for Christ’s forgiveness in the mosaic.
– The Nave –
Nothing prepares you though once you enter the magnificent open area that is the nave (central area of a church) of Hagia Sophia. Once I entered, I could understand the reason why Justinian the Great, upon entering the newly built church on its inauguration, filled with exhilaration said,”Solomon, I have outdone thee!(referring to the First Temple built by King Solomon at Jerusalem)”. It was breathtaking! Such a vast open space only worthy of the divine!
Filled with colors everywhere, of marbled walls and columns, of carved cornices, of undulating arches, of beautifully painted ceilings, the Hagia Sophia certainly is one of the greatest achievements of man! It takes to be there to fully appreciate it’s splendor!
Back then I realized how powerful and rich the Eastern Roman Empire/Byzantine Empire really was – stretching from Italy to the borders of Iraq, from the Danube to North Africa – it is known that during construction, Justinian the Great ordered materials from different parts of the empire: “Hellenistic Columns from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus (my trip to Ephesus to be blogged soon), large stones from quarries in porphyry (purple stones that represented royalty) from Egypt (my trip to Egypt also to be blogged soon), green marble from Thessaly, black stone from the Bosporus region, and yellow stone from Syria.” Another proof that Hagia Sophia literally is the temple of the world!
Immediately on your left after entering the nave, on the northwestern & western corners of the church, you can find these curious huge marble lustration (ritual purification) urns brought to Hagia Sophia during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Murad III. Dating back from Hellenistic Roman Times, these two urns, carved from a single marble, are believed to have contained anointment oils. These were brought the hilltop city of Pergamon in Turkish Asia Minor (my trip to Pergamon also to be blogged soon), the capital city of Alexander the Great’s province of Asia and briefly capital of the Roman Empire’s Province of the same name before it was transferred to Ephesus. It is now located in the modern day town of Bergama.
The Pillar of Saint Gregory the Miracle Worker
Almost in the same area of the marble urns, I noticed people lining up in a rectangular pillar. This pillar is known as the Pillar of Saint Gregory the Miracle Worker. Named after the 3rd century bishop of Neocaesarea (modern day Niksar in the Black Sea areas of Turkey), the pillar is believed to have healing powers and the ability to grant wishes due to from the wet substance that comes from it. This copper-covered column was named so because of the story that the saint appeared in the Hagia Sophia after its construction and touched this column giving it miraculous properties. The way it works, which I tried, is that you put your thumb in the hole of the column and rotate your hand until it becomes wet with the substance. Try it yourself, who knows, your wishes might come true!
Islamic Wooden Plaques
Being truly a Temple of the World, the Hagia Sophia has hosted followers of two world religions: that of Christianity and that of Islam. As such, you will see numerous Islamic decorations within it, most prominently are the eight wooden plaques hanging over the nave, bearing calligraphic inscriptions in Arabic. These were added by the Fosatti Brothers, Swiss architects hired to renovate the Hagia Sophia in the 1800’s. The plaques bear the names of Allah, the Prophet Mohammed, the first four Caliphs, and the two of the prophet’s grandson revered as martyrs, Hasan & Hussein.
The Library of Mahmut I
As you walk in the vast expanse of the nave towards the apse, you can see on your right a doorway to a room. This is the Library of Ottoman Sultan Mahmut I, separated from the main church by bronze grids. Over 5000 books have been donated to this library, now relocated in the Sulimaniye Library.
The Windows of Hagia Sophia
From the inception of the idea of Hagia Sophia, it was envisioned to be a temple filled with light. As such, numerous windows can be found within it – from it walls, to its ceiling, to the dome itself. So you can imagine how bright and airy the place was upon its completion!
However, time and time again, the structures integrity was compromised by its immense weight and the number of windows bored through it doesn’t help. So many of the windows were filled in to compensate and support the imploding weight of the building (seen in the many cracks that you may come to encounter while exploring Hagia Sophia). Given these alterations, we are left with a seemingly darker interior though the chandeliers that give the illusion that they are floating the air provides the much needed light and a sense of mystery to the place.
Nevertheless, the Hagia Sophia still has numerous windows still open to natural light and its from these that you can appreciate the simple Christian crosses and symbols painted or mosaic-ed right under the arches of the building. These simple decorations were the original embellishment of the structure when it was first inaugurated, in addition to the gold mosaics that filled almost the entire place (further reflecting light within Hagia Sophia, accentuating the sparkly brilliance of the interior). The more lavish decorations (as you will see as you go along reading this post) were added in the later centuries by subsequent emperors.
Speaking of Byzantine/Eastern Roman Emperors, one won’t miss a patterned marble square area, with a large purplish-colored circular stone slab in the middle, on the south eastern part of the nave, on the right hand side of the nave near the apse of Hagia Sophia. This area is known as the Coronation Square or the Omphalion, a Greek word meaning “navel/center of the earth”. It is on this very spot that Byzantine Emperors/Basileus (Greek that is synonymous with King) were crowned. It is also believed to be the location of the throne of the Emperors’ throne during ceremonies in the Hagia Sophia. Just looking at it gave me tremendous awe, knowing that for almost a thousand years (from the Hagia Sophia’s completion on year 537 to the fall of Constantinople in 1453), almost all of the 99 Emperors of the Roman/Byzantine Empire (what remains of it after the fall of the Western Part of the Empire on the year 476), stood or sat in this very place – great men that shaped the world whose contributions are still felt (consciously or unconsciously) till the present.
– The Dome –
Of all the features of Hagia Sophia, the part which made it stand out from all the monuments built by the Romans/Byzantine is its magnificent dome. Rising 180 feet (55 meters) from the ground, and pierced by 40 windows, the dome gave the illusion to the visitors that it was floating in the air. If I remember the story correctly, the Russians and other non-Christian visitors to Constantinople immediately were convinced that the Christian God was the real God once seeing this edifice dedicated to him especially due to the fact that the larger than life dome appeared suspended from a chain straight from the heavens!
It is said that the dome during Byzantine times had a fresco (or a huge mosaic of the Christ Pantocrator – Christ the Almighty). If you’re not familiar of this signature Byzantine depiction of Christ, check this one from our travel in Greece). After the Ottoman Conquest and its conversion to a mosque, all images that depict humans within the Hagia were plastered over as human figures were not allowed to be present within Muslim places of worships as it is considered as idolatry. Eventually the dome was covered with golden mosaics, and until the 19th century restoration of the edifice, tinkling sound of mosaic stone pieces falling to the ground were a familiar site to Hagia Sophia’s visitors. At present, it is decorated with Koranic Inscriptions.
Seraphim Mosaics on the pendentives of Hagia Sophia
Of all the designs decorating surroundings of the Hagia Sophia, the most obvious ones which date back from the Christian Byzantine era are the seraphim or cherubim mosaics that can be found on the pendentives (a constructive device permitting the placing of a circular dome over a square room or an elliptical dome over a rectangular room – first effectively used in the square cross plan of Hagia Sophia) of the structure. Those on the east side dates back to 1346-55 but might be copied from much older ones while the ones on the western side are imitations that were added during the Fossati Brothers’ restoration of the edifice.
Standing there, I was quite puzzled as to why the seraphims were depicted this way – a far cry from how angels popularly look like – feminine, graceful, with flowing robes. However, I remembered that before and I guess the way they are written in the holy books, angels or specifically seraphs were described as looking more like scary, inhuman beings and these are the ones depicted in Hagia Sophia. The seraphs are pictured accurately though as six-winged beings (believed to have the sole purpose of flying around the Throne of God crying “holy, holy, holy.”
– The Apse –
Still stunned by the magnificence of the dome, I forced myself to go along my looking around at the Hagia Sophia, so at the farther most part from the entrance, on the easternmost part of the building I got face to face with the wonderful apse (semicircular recess covered with a hemispherical vault or semi-dome, also known as an Exedra) of Hagia Sophia. The apse in all churches contains the holy of holies, the focal point, the most sacred ground within a church, the altar. Purposely facing east towards Jerusalem, the holiest city for Christianity, when it was constructed as a Christian place of worship, the altar was replaced with the Islamic Mihrab after the Ottoman Conquest, a characteristic niche in mosques, denoting the location of Mecca which was also east of Constantinople/Istanbul.
During the Byzantine times, it was believed that the Emperor was the Sword Hand of God, his secular representative on Earth, and the leaders/patriarchs/popes of the Christian Church, the Spiritual Representative/Hand of God. It is not difficult to see why the Emperor was seen as the head of all Christendom since the Roman Empire (which had all the holy sites within it’s territories especially in the Levant/Near East till the Arab Conquests) had declared Christianity as its state religion from sometime around the year 400 or so – all of the Christians back then were under one secular ruler: One Emperor for the entirety of Christendom. That is why the city of Constantinople and the Church of Hagia Sophia back then housed numerous religious relics brought from all corners of the empire.
The Iconostasis of Hagia Sophia
All the relics in Hagia Sophia were housed in its 50 foot tall Iconostasis, the wall of icons and religious paintings, separating the nave from the altar in a church. The impressive collection of relics it was said included:
- Pieces of the True Cross
- The lance that pierced Christ’s side
- The ram’s horns with which Joshua blew down the walls of Jericho
- the olive branch carried by the dove to Noah’s ark after the Flood
- Christ’s tunic
- the crown of thorns
- Christ’s own blood
Sadly, all of this are now gone, first after the Sack by the Crusaders of Constantinople in 1204, and then the iconostasis itself was removed when Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque.
All that can be seen in the apse of Hagia Sophia now that reminds us of its Christian roots are the mosaics of the archangels Gabriel (pictured below) and Michael, but only fragments of the latter remains…and of course, towering over the apse, at the semi-dome is…
The Virgin with the Infant Jesus on her lap – a majestic mosaic believed to be a reconstruction in the 8th century of the 6th century mosaics destroyed alongside other icons during the Iconoclastic period (a period where it was decreed that icons/images of Christ and other Holy Christian personages were illegal and considered as idolatry), the throne and the pedestal that the Virgins sits upon and the steps on which her feet are rested are encrusted with precious gems and stones.
Satisfied with my exploration of the things to see in Hagia Sophia ‘s nave and lower galleries, I set my gaze upwards towards the balconies that compose the Upper Galleries of Hagia Sophia, so I decided it was about time for me to find my way up there!
– The Upper Galleries –
The way to the upper galleries was from the right hand side of the inner narthex when exiting the nave. From the picture below along the said area of the narthex, I turned a sharp right towards cobbled stone ramps that steeply wound its way through dark narrow halls up Hagia Sophia. It felt like I was in a castle of some sort and I was surprised that a ramp was constructed instead of staircase – I’m not sure about the reason for this.
After some time traversing the dark halls of the ramp, a sudden show of light welcomes you the upper gallery of the Hagia Sophia. The upper galleries of the building was the place where women stayed during services or ceremonies (Yes, men and women were separated in the earlier days of the church).
North Upper Gallery
Deciding to see the photo exhibition of the mosaics found within Hagia Sophia, I found myself following the northern gallery first. On the eastern side of the great northwest pier, I saw the mosaic of Emperor Alexander holding in his left hand a globus cruciger (orb with a cross) and in his right hand an akakia (cylindrical purple silk roll containing dust, held by the Byzantine during ceremonies, and symbolizing the mortal nature of all men). It was kinda hard to capture the image as the lighting was not excellent and the mosaic somewhat badly damaged but I believe you can somehow figure it out in my photograph below.
West Upper Gallery
Done with the northern upper gallery, I traversed the western upper galleries. pierced with large windows, the hall was really bright, enabling me to appreciate more the mosaics and frescoes that adorn the ceiling. You can also see in my photograph below the grueling effect time had on the Hagia Sophia – observe the large cracks on the marble floor and the iron rods placed intermittently across the hall to support the burgeoning weight of the structure.
The Loge of the Empress
The main point of interest though along the west upper gallery is the spot marked by a green marble disc indicating the location of the Byzantine Empress’ throne when in Hagia Sophia, also known as the Loge of the Empress.
It is from here that the Byzantine Empress observed the proceedings in the nave below and what a wondrous view it must have been. My most favorite photograph taken of the interior of Hagia Sophia is the one below, taken from the spot of the Empress’s Loge. It offers you an overall view of the magnificent edifice, with your eyes confused as to which to see first, the dome or the nave, the countless windows, the columns, the semi-domes, the decorations, etc. Amazing! Never miss this spot when you go there!
South Upper Gallery
Gates of Heaven and Hell
Turning a sharp left from the west gallery towards the South Upper Gallery, you are welcomed by a collosal marble doorway dating back to Byzantine times called as the Gates of Heaven and Hell. Little is know about this doorways but it is believed by many to be “used by the participants in synods (or Church Council) they entered and left the meeting chamber through this door.”
Immediately upon entering the Gates of Heaven and Hell, you can see on your left hand side the vast expanse of the lateral parts of Hagia Sophia, with the chandeliers lighting the nave below, the feeling is nothing short of surreal.
If you look closely at the lower part of the massive tympanum on the opposite northern side, you can see some mosaics: these are portrayals of the early Church Fathers Saint John Chrysostom and Ignatius the Younger, identified by the inscriptions in Greek beside each figure. Thanks to their very high and unreachable locations, these mosaics have survived the deliberate destruction of the images in Hagia Sophia by the Ottoman conquerors.
When I came closer to the marble parapets (defined as a barrier which is an extension of the wall at the edge of a roof, terrace, balcony, walkway or other structure) of the middle south upper gallery, I saw some Runic graffiti scratched on the marble face. This graffiti is believed to be the work of the Vikings (fans of History Channel’s Viking series raise your hands please!) during the Viking Age when they were hired to be part of the prestigious Varangian Guards or the private elite guard of the Byzantine Emperor. Dating back from the 9th century,
the graffiti are mostly not legible except for the name Halvdan as stated in the glass covering the said writings.
From the upper galleries, you can also closely see the intricate carving of the columns capitals. If I am not mistaken, the characters enclosed in a circle found in the center of the capitals are the anagrams of the ones who ordered the constructions of Hagia Sophia: the legendary couple Emperor Justinian the Great and Empress Theodora.
– The Hagia Sophia Mosaics –
Of the Byzantine artworks found in the Hagia Sophia, nothing shows the amazing aesthetic capabilities of the empire other than the mosaics found on the south gallery right after passing the Gates of Heaven and Hell. This wondrous religious depictions gives us a glimpse of what might have been hundreds of artworks that adorned the Hagia Sophia back when it was still a temple of Christianity.
First and foremost and I believe the most beautiful of the Hagia Sophia mosaics is the Deesis. The Deesis in Byzantine and Eastern Orthodox art is the depiction of Christ enthroned carrying a book a flanked by Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist (or sometimes by other saints or heavenly beings), begging Christ for mercy for all humanity when the time of the Judgement Day arrives.
Stare closer at the faces in the mosaics and you will see how lifelike they are – composed of thousands of small colored stones, you can feel the emotion, the agony of Mary and Saint John the Baptist pleading for humanity’s forgiveness. Such emotions contrasted by the dignified, stern but kind face of Christ with his eyes appearing to stare right at you. The Deesis is considered as the best surviving example of Byzantine art but sadly only the upper portions of the mosaic has survived the test of time. Fortunately, a framed reconstruction of the work is placed on the lower right hand side of the mosaic giving visitors the idea of how it must have appeared when it was still complete.
Tomb of Enrico Dandolo
Opposite the Deesis mosaic, set into the floor is the supposed Tomb of Enrico Dandolo, the Doge of Venice, the mastermind of the sacking of Constantinople on 1204. Hated by all Byzantines, his remains were removed from this spot after the Byzantines recovered the city from the Latins 60 years after – his bones were said to be fed to the dogs.
Virgin Holding Christ Flanked by Emperor John II Comnenus and Empress Irene Mosaic
Walking further along the south upper gallery, I found the mosaic of the Virgin Holding Christ Flanked by Emperor John II Comnenus and Empress Irene Mosaic. Considered to be the greatest of all the Komnenian Dynasty emperors, John II Comnenus was the son of the famous Alexius I Comnenus, the emperor who called upon the help of the Roman Catholic Church, a call for help that resulted to the Crusades. John II Comnenus’ campaigns in Asia Minor “fundamentally changed the balance of power in the east, forcing the Turks onto the defensive and restoring to the Byzantines many towns, fortresses and cities right across the peninsula”.
Found beside the Emperor, giving their gifts to the Virgin Mary and the Child Christ, is the blond, grey-eyed, rosy-cheeked Empress Irene which was of Hungarian descent. Staring at my photograph of this beautiful mosaic, especially the part with the Virgin’s and the Child Jesus, never fails to fill me with amazement!
Alexius Comnenus Mosaic
The eldest son and heir of Emperor John II Comnenus, Alexius Comnenus, is depicted on an adjacent pilaster to the mosaic of his father. Shown beardless, it is believed that he is shown here when he was still seventeen years old – the age when he was crowned emperor.
Christ with Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos and Empress Zoe
The last of the mosaics found on the upper gallery of the Hagia Sophia is that of Christ with Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos and Empress Zoe. This royal couple were very unpopular during their reign, the Emperor being unqualified and whose decisions lead to the further decline of the Byzantine state and the Empress being lustful and marrying many times. Though in this mosaic they are shown with dignity, holding up their offerings to Christ.
A zoomed in photograph of the mosaic just shows how many pieces of stone composes the work – an amazing feat of Byzantine art by itself!
– Leaving Hagia Sophia –
Vestibule of the Warriors
Being satisfied and still awe-struck by all that I’ve seen, it was time to call it a day for my visit to Hagia Sophia (my newly found friends in my Turkey trip were waiting for me as we would go together to Chora Church – another amazing Byzantine Church to be blogged soon). Following my footsteps back to the upper gallery, down the ramps, southwards along the inner narthex – I found myself in the public exit of Hagia Sophia, known in Imperial times as the Vestibule of the Warriors. This passageway was named so because it was the place where the emperor’s bodyguards would await him when he came to the church to worship. The heavy wooden doors in this passageway was said to be transported from Tarsus, the birthplace of Saint Paul.
Virgin and Child Jesus with Constanine and Justinian
And as if reminding us of what Hagia Sophia was – a place of undying devotion and faith – a simple look above the tympanum of the southwestern exit/Vestibule of the Warrios exit would treat you with what I think embodies the existence of this magnificent edifice – an gift to exalt & praise the divine – the mosaic of the Virgin and Child Jesus with Constantine and Justinian. The two giants of the Christian Byzantine/Roman Empire, Emperor Constantine the Great & Emperor Justinian the Great, giving their offerings to Jesus and his Mother Mary, the first offering the city of Constantinople and the latter offering the Church of Hagia Sophia. A perfect end to a perfect day at Hagia Sophia.
So tell me, with its history, with the faiths that it housed, with the empires that came and fell, with its magnificence, majesty, beauty and entirety – If Hagia Sophia is not the Temple of the World, then what is it?
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*Hagia Sophia opening hours:
Winter Visiting Hours: 09.00 to 17.00, with the final entry being at 16.00.
Summer Visiting Hours: 09.00 to 19.00, with the final entry being at 18.00
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