Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Date 532-37 CE

Movement Byzantine

Located at Istanbul, Turkey


Built upon a church that was originally constructed under Constantine though perished under riots against Justininian. This church employs the Western longitudinal format with a nave and side aisles; however, with a central dome and side aisles, the central nave takes upon an elliptical form. The original dome collapsed during an earthquake in 558, though was quickly replaced by a taller one. After the Turkish invasion in 1453, the building was converted to a mosque and four minarets along with additional buttressing were added to the exterior.


Massive medallions bearing Islamic inscriptions were also added to the building’s interior. Though Classical devices were employed (arches, Corinthian capitals) the effect is dramatically different—instead of displaying the structure’s strength and mathematical balance, as would have been done in the Graeco-Roman era, the structure’s frame appears to take more of a decorative role than a functional one; windows pierce the dome and nave, giving the entire space a weightless dimension. As these supports seemingly lose their property of strength and function, the human mind struggles to understand how such a structure is possible without the divine.


In the basilica’s arcade, white marble of the Classical era has been replaced by butterfly-patterned stone. These patterns, coupled with the lacework carving of the columns capitals, enhance the structure’s overall lightness and weightlessness.