An Architectural Wonder
Istanbul, in Turkey,
is considered to be one of the most fascinating places
of tourist attraction. Located strategically to the west
of the Bosporus strait, Istanbul actually bridges the
continents of Europe and Asia, and as a result was an
important trading center right from olden times.
Istanbul is supposed to be steeped in rich and extensive
historic and traditional values and cultures and is
considered to be an embodiment of Byzantine
Today, Istanbul is well known as a city that houses some
magnificent architectural wonders, chiefly Islamic in
nature. This factor has interested lots of historians
and other tourists, who literally swarm to the place at
all times. It is also a very economical place to enjoy a
holiday with sight seeing.
One of the main places of tourist attraction in Istanbul
and undoubtedly an architectural wonder of the times is
the Hagia Sophia, which actually traces its origins to
the Byzantine Empire between 532 AD and 537 AD. The
Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya as it is known in Turkish was
actually a patriarchal Basilica that has been considered
to be an embodiment of Byzantine architecture and also
had the distinction of remaining the largest cathedral
in the world until 1520. Built on the orders of the
Byzantine Emperor Justinian, its interiors were richly
decorated with artistic mosaics depicting various
religious scenes and were supported by massive marble
The magnificent part in the architecture of the Hagia
Sophia was its impressive central dome, which had a
diameter of 31.24 meters and a height of 55.6 meters. It
was miraculously made weightless due to the continuous
chain of 40 arched windows under it, which also served
to flood the entire interior with sunlight. Moreover,
four concave triangular piers at the corners of the
base, carries the weight of the dome, and these were
reinforced in later times with the help of buttresses.
The architecture inside the Hagia Sophia is dominated by
breathtaking and colorful polychrome marbles, and gold
mosaics, which are encrusted upon brick. This sheathing
was also useful in camouflaging the large pillars, as
well as to give it a brighter look.
It was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman rule
and due credit should be given to the Ottoman Turks, who
continued the tradition of the Byzantine architecture.
They converted the age old church of Hagia Sophia to a
mosque and in the process, removed the various
decorations like the bells, alter, iconostasis, and
sacrificial vessels, typical of Christian churches. The
rich and impressive mosaics depicting various Christian
images that were seen throughout the church were
completely plastered over and instead the Islamic
masters adorned the Hagia Sophia with attractive
geometrical designs and also made extensive use of
expensive colored stones, carved wood craft, gold and
mother of pearl. Purely Islamic attributes such as the 'mihrab',
'minbar' and the four 'minarets' outside were added at
various stages of the Ottoman rule.
The transition from a Christian patriarchal church to an
Islamic mosque was quite impressive and Great architects
like Mimar Sinan, who is considered to be the one of the
first earthquake engineers of the world, contributed
much to the maintenance of the mosque in further years.
Sinan built two impressive large minarets at the western
end of the building and the mausoleum of Selim II to the
southeast of the building in 1577. Later years saw the
addition of a minbar to the sultan's gallery and a dais
for sermons as well as a loggia for a muezzin.
The Hagia Sophia underwent several alterations and
additions and remained an Islamic mosque till 1935,
after which it was transformed into a museum by the
secular Republic of Turkey.