Season 2 – Episode 10: Hagia Sofia

From Basilica to Cathedral to Mosque to Museum, this episode’s monument spans across 1,600 years, multiple empires, and centuries upon centuries of dedicated engineers and architects keeping it in proper repair: The Hagia Sofia

In the city that today is known as Istanbul, the first iteration of the Hagia Sofia was built in 360AD, at a time when the city was still known as Byzantium. Constructed out of wood, it was burned to the ground during riots, then rebuilt once again out of wood in 415AD only to be once again burned during riots. Then in 537AD under Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I, and supervised by engineer Anthemius of Tralles the Hagia Sofia was rebuilt out of stone, and has stood to this day.

Under the Eastern Roman Empire, each new Emperor would add to, repair or extend the Hagia Sofia, up until the 13th century when the city and the Hagia Sofia itself were looted by the Venetian Crusaders. All the gold and silver were stripped from the building and it would be converted in purpose from a Byzantine Orthodox Basilica to a Roman Catholic Cathedral as the city changed from Byzantium to Constantinople. 

The now Cathedral would change hands again when Constantinople was conquered by Mehmed II and renamed to Istanbul, this time changing from a Catholic Cathedral to an Islamic Mosque. Under Mehmed II additions would be made such as wooden minarets, it’s famous giant chandelier, and some additional parts to facilitate Islamic prayer traditions. Painting of Jesus and other Christian iconography was covered with plaster rather than removed or destroyed, which allowed for these icons to later be restored prior to the Turkish president secularizing the building in 1934 and turning it into a Museum. History for the monument is still being written, as just this year Turkish President Erdogan has covered it back to a Mosque, with Christian imagery this time concealed behind curtains.

Beyond the monument’s changing hands, the Hagia Sofia provides us an opportunity to learn about the Eastern Roman building techniques the allowed for the monument’s iconic and surprisingly thing dome, 6th century fireproofing methodology, and some theorizing around how Pi would have been approximated at this time in history.


Image Gallery

Mary & Jesus Mosaic | Dome and PendentivesInterior with crowd | Islamic Symbols and Christian Mosaic side by side | Exterior view of Hagia Sofia | A very young Vivian & John


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Music by: John Julius –

Edited by: Astronomic Audio

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