The Basilica of Saint Sophia (or Hagia Sophia) is currently at the heart of debates since Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took the decision to transform the place into a mosque. An astonishing debate considering that the building has already occupied this role for centuries. To get to know this emblematic building better, here are 5 things to remember about Hagia Sophia.
1 – It was destroyed twice
Built in 360 AD in honour of Emperor Constantine II, It was destroyed in 404 during a series of riots, before being rebuilt in 415, and destroyed again in the Nika Sedition, one of the largest uprisings in history, in 532.
2 – One of the Seven Wonders of the World was used in its conception…
In order to fortify and embellish the interior of the building, the builders recycled columns from the long-destroyed and abandoned Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. It is said that materials also came from Baalbeck (Lebanon) and Pergamum (an ancient city in Asia Minor).
3 – It has been a mosque for over 500 years.
The current debate around the change of status of Hagia Sophia is not really relevant. In 1453, after the capture of Constantinople (now Istanbul) by the Ottoman Empire, the place had already been transformed into a mosque by the first sultants, Murad II and Mehmed II, a role it occupied for nearly 5 centuries.
4 – The building is full of Islamic elements
During this period, the country’s leaders added a mihrab (prayer niche indicating the direction of Mecca) and a minbar, a kind of pulpit from which the khatib preaches his sermon during Friday prayer. Several minarets were added outside, as well as a school, kitchen, library and mausoleums.
5 – The Sultan has protected the Christian heritage of the place.
During his reign, Sultan Mehmed II refused to destroy the many frescoes and mosaics decorating the walls. On the contrary, he had them covered with plaster and covered with Islamic calligraphy. Thus preserved, they were later found, documented and restored by the Italian-Swiss architects Gaspare and Giuseppe Fossati, who worked extensively on the site.