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Facing the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia (meaning “Divine Wisdom” in ancient Greek) is a remarkable structure. It was originally built as an Orthodox patriarchal basilica in the 6th century AD and was the largest Christian cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years. After the conquest of Istanbul in 1453, Hagia Sophia was taken over by the Ottomans and converted into a mosque; it became a museum in 1935, and now contains a collection of Christian and Islamic art, Byzantine mosaics, holy relics, and extraordinary examples of iconography.
The building, with its immense dome, soars to a height of 56 meters. Astonishingly, it was built in only five years (by about 10,000 workers and 100 master craftsmen). Hagia Sophia was designed by the Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus under the Emperor Justinian, who decided to build on the site of two previously destroyed churches. When it was completed, it is reported that Justinian compared it to the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, saying “Oh Solomon! I have outdone you.” The buttresses were added in 1317 (when it looked like the structure might collapse) and the minarets were added after its post-Conquest conversion to a mosque.
One of the most impressive aspects of Hagia Sophia is the plethora of mosaics with their glittering gold surfaces. Restorations are still ongoing; in 2009, a painting of a six-winged seraph, thought to date to the 14th century, was rediscovered. Another remarkable feature is the “weeping column”, which by popular superstition is believed to cure people with eye infections and boost fertility.
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