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The mosque of Hagia Sophia, is located in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul, close to the Topkapi Palace, and the Blue Mosque. If there is one image that is immediately recognisable as being Istanbul it is the image of Hagia Sophia, its huge dome and its towering minarets. Hagia Sophia has a long history as both a Christian and Muslem place of worship, but in 1935 under the instruction of Ataturk, Hagia Sophia became a museum of the Turkish Republic. In 1985 it was placed by UNESCO on the World Heritage List as having outstanding universal value. So it is not surprising that it has become one of the foremost tourist attractions in the world.

The church of Hagia Sophia is of a rectangular construction, featuring a simply vast square nave with nine entrance doors, measuring 31 meters, this is covered by a dome supported by four pendentives which enable the transition from the square nave to the circular dome. Circling the dome is an arcade containing a total of 40 arched windows. The basilica itself is 70 meters by 75 meters, plus there is an atrium measuring 48 meters by 32 meters. The upper galleries are reached via ramps, which are traditionally found in the churches of Constantinople.

The original church built on the site was of a wooden construction, but this was destroyed by fire in the year 404. With a new one erected a year later. This church was also destroyed during the Nika Revolt in 532. A third church was then built under the orders of Justinian the Great, and was inaugurated in 537. The building suffered badly from earthquakes between 553 and 558. It was after this that the dome was elevated and matched the height of the dome we see today.

In 562 it became the seat of the Orthadox patriarch of Constantinople and the site for imperial ceremonies. In 726 Emperor leo the Isaurian stripped Hagia Sophia of all its religious artefacts as he opposed the veneration if images. Later Islamic monograms were installed at the south entrance. Between 859 and 989 a series of fires and earthquakes caused considerable damage. Repairs were ordered by Emperor Basil II and these were completed in 994.

Hagia Sophia

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In 1931 with the support of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and under the leadership of Thomas Whittemore, mosaics had begun to be uncovered from the white plaster that had hidden them. Carpets were removed, revealing the original marble flooring. This work enabled the opening of Hagia Sophia as the museum we have the privilege to be able to visit today.

Hagia Sophia was ransacked during the fourth crusade and many of the treasures were lost. During the occupation between 1204 and 1261 Hagia Sophia became a Roman Catholic cathedral. The Byzantines returned to the city in 1261 and some improvements were made, but in 1344 an earthquake caused the dome to crack which resulted in a partial collapse two years later. It was not until 1354 that the church was reopened after major repairs.

In 1453 after Mehmet II conquered Constantinople on behalf of the Ottoman Empire, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. Major restorations and additions a were made by a succession of sultans over the following years.