Hagia Sophia - Istanbul / Turkey

Istanbul – Article Series: Hagia Sophia (Part 2)


Who had been charged by Sultan Abdulmajid to conduct the restoration of Hagia Sophia that was to topple down in 1847, had a great opportunity having the chance of drawing pictures of this monumental building from several aspects. This study you hold has a great deal of benefit in terms of the Byzantine art, archaeology and of all kinds of artisans.

There, architects had been putting their notions forward on a variety of subjects and on one of the fascinating models that would certainly be studied. Apart from the gigantic arches that carried the dome, they were deeply attracted to the charming decoration in contrast to them, and then to the nef ovally shaped with its rich materials and colourful harmonic patterns that were thought to be newly done.

Artisans, aspiring to reproduce some of the dramatic events that frequently fell upon this edifice at the later times of the Byzantine Empire and during the conquest, would at the same time present (through the drawings) sample motifs and materials that were to give a realistic character to the scenes which were to create vague imaginations in the minds.

Gold Plates - Hagia Sophia / Istanbul
Gold Plates – Hagia Sophia / Istanbul

Anyway, let us give a short history of this monument and describe it:

In the twentieth year of his reign Constantine the Great built in his capital a new church which he dedicated to Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom). To this name the Turks also respected.

Constans, son and successor of Constantine had the church completed; in other words he rebuilt it over a wider plan. When it caught fire after a century during the insurrection ignited by the unjust banishment of Jean Chrisostome, Archadius restored it. Eventually it was fully destroyed for the forth time at the end of the great mutiny in Hippodrome fired by the useless conflict between the Blue and Green headquarters during the emperorship of Justinian. Thirtyfive thousand people, according to the historical records, perished in this melee. It was then that Emperor Justinien rebuilt it on the same place in 532. The two celebrated architects of that time, Antemius of Trolles and Isidore of Millet, were charged in this important construction. The remnants of the beautiful temples in Anatolia and Greece served for the embellishment of this edifice. It was over after eight years and became famous for being the vastest and gorgeous building of the world. Since that time, the building underwent lots of changes; i.e., its dome was brought down by earthquakes a couple of years later following its construction, and it was Isidore the Junior who reconstructed it. Basile the Macedonian, Romain II, Andronic the Old, Empress Anne Cantacuzene and Jean Paleologue did some successive reparations in the building. At length Mehmed the Conqueror had the paintings of the Christian emblems disappeared via thin plaster. Shortly afterwards, during the reign of Sultan Selim II and Murad III the exterior buttressed were added; and this heavy and gross construction disfigured the original and primitive form of the building. These would be helpful in case of possible quakes. And there has been done no important job since that time on.

Detail From Gold Plates - Hagia Sophia - Istanbul
Detail From Gold Plates – Hagia Sophia – Istanbul

The incumbent sultan, son of Sultan Mahmud II, comprehended that it was time to stop the gradual destruction of the masterwork of the Byzantine art. Its arches and domes that had already been cracked would let rain, snow and wind in. And there joined the negligence of the “Softas” who were charged with the conversation of the building. Moreover they would let the doves and other predatory birds occupy the building inside as well as outside the building; and were indifferent to the repair of the lead covering that was to end up with the ruin of St. Sophia. Both the loss of this celebrated basilica was deplorable for the arts and civilisation, as its restoration is a happy event that honours the reign of Abdulmajid in the highest degree.

The restoration lasted for two years; and due to various difficulties the job was not as complete as the architects desired to be. The sum of expenditure, the religious necessities and some other motifs that were comparably in better condition did not allow to do the best. To get a considerable result they need the permission of the Grand Vizier, Reshid Pasha, who was known by the whole Europe to have a discerning taste for fine arts.

The most endangered parts of the edifice have been reconstructed; the repaired lead covering of the ceiling, the cupola that had been rescued by a long fourarched buttress and the double iron belt around its base were properly replaced. The 13 columns of Gynecee galleries that were taken out of their hanger by pushing major lateral arches that support the dome redressed. The ancient mosaic was fully discovered and the coating that was hiding it was cleared. Mihrab”, “member” and “mahfils” were all restored. And the imperial tribune was entirely rebuilt in Byzantine style. At the same time the furniture of the mosque was renovated with great luxury.

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