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Haghia Sophia

The Haghia Sophia (Aya Sophia in turkish) was an early Christian Church and later an Eastern Orthodox church which was transformed into a mosque in 1453 by the Turks. It stands in the centre of Istanbul directly opposite the equally stunning Sultanhammet mosque and a few hundred yards from the Topkapi Palace.

The Hagia Sophia or Holy Wisdom mother church of all Eastern Christians was firstly built by Constantius, son of Emperor Constantine the Great. Constantius' church was consecrated in 360 AD. At first it was known as the Great Church because it was the largest at the time. Later it became known as Holy Wisdom, a name attributed to Christ by theologians of the 4th century. The first Basilica of Haghia Sophia burned down completely in a fire in the year 404, and the second basilica, which was of somewhat larger dimensions, was built in 415. It served Christians for more than a century until 532 when it was burned down during the Nika riots.

The Emperor Justinian I, after the Nika Revolt ordered to build a temple a work of unparalleled magnificence erected on the same site where the second Hagia was standing. Justinian commissioned the work to two Anatolian geniuses the architect Anthemius of Tralles and the mathematican Isidorus of Miletos who had to prepare the plans and supervise the construction. All the richest and most costly materials were used in the construction like blocks of marble from the Marmara islands, green marble from Euboea and red from Synada. The new temple was opened officially on December 27, 537.

For many times the structures of the temple have suffered heavy damage in several earthquakes and they had to be reinforced, in addition of bad times all the interior pictures with religious figures were destroyed during the Iconoclastic period (726-842). The church was completed looted during the Latin Occupation in 1204 and was rather neglected in the last years of the Byzantine Empire.

Following the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks, the Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror converted the church into a mosque. For many years after the conquest, the icon mosaics were preserved merely by covering the faces. It was Sultan Selim II who showed the greatest interest in the structure, commissioning the architect Mimar Sinan to restore the mosque while expanding the outer part as well.

After the foundation on the New Republic, Mustafa Kemal converted the mosque in a Museum in 1935 removing from Saint Sophia its religious character.

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