The Istanbul skyline is dominated by the Hagia Sophia mosque and its minarets. Not only is it one of the most remarkable tourist attractions in Turkey, but it is also a scientific and architectural achievement of its time. UNESCO has recognized its cultural influence by including the grand structure in the list of World Cultural Heritage sites. In its heyday, the monument was believed to have been constructed with ‘divine’ assistance. The landmark’s rich history has changed several times over the years. Read on to know about the Hagia Sophia mosque.
The Hagia Sophia Mosque has been a witness to numerous historical events in the 14 centuries of its existence. Its ambient grandeur is unrivaled. Let us delve deeper into the past and present of this monument.
Since its construction under the Byzantines, the Hagia Sophia was a revered church. In 1453, the Ottoman conquest led to the fall of Constantinople. Under Ottoman rule, the church was converted into a mosque for the first time. The first Friday prayer at the mosque was held on June 1, 1453. Several architectural elements were added to the Hagia Sophia subsequently to make it appear like a mosque. These elements included a mimbar, a mihrab, a preacher's platform, and wooden balustrades.
For the next 482 years, the Hagia Sophia Mosque kept its religious designation. The southern courtyard of the structure houses the mausoleums of Murat III, Mehmet III, and Selim II. The baptistery of Hagia Sophia was converted into mausoleums of Mustafa I and Sultan Ibrahim.
In 1935, Turkish President and founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, announced that the illustrious Hagia Sophia Mosque will take on the designation of a museum.
After the fall of Constantinople, the then dilapidated Aya Sofya Church became the focal point of looting by Ottoman troops. It led to further damage to the structure. Mehmed II immediately ordered renovations and made it the first imperial mosque of Istanbul.
A small minaret was added to the Hagia Sophia Mosque before 1481 in the southwest corner, followed by another one in the northeast corner before 1512. After 1566, the mosque had to be strengthened extensively using additional supporting structures.
Sultan Abdulmejid I ordered a widespread renovation of the Hagia Sophia Mosque in 1847 and had it completed in two years. Swiss-Italian architect brothers Gaspare and Giuseppe Fossati oversaw the straightening of several columns, securing of the vaults, consolidation of the dome, and redecoration of the exterior and interior of the mosque. In 1850, a new maqsurah was added to the northern aisle of the Hagia Sophia Mosque.
The Hagia Sophia Mosque held the designation of a museum until 2020, becoming one of the most popular and iconic tourist attractions in the world. The Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, started a campaign to convert the museum back into a mosque. The first prayer at the new Hagia Sophia Mosque was held on July 24, 2020.