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Published May 12th 2014
In addition to being a integral piece of Istanbul's cultural and historical fabric in both ancient and modern times, Hagia Sophia or "holy wisdom" is also an important site for the city's tourism. Here are 10 facts about this domed monument to make your visit more interesting:
1) Hagia Sophia has been standing for more than 1400 years.
2) It's dimensions of 82 meters long and 73 meters wide, sporting a dome 33 meters in diameter with a crown that rises 55 meters from the ground level is formidable at its time of construction.
3) Hagia Sophia was constructed in 537 BC as a Greek Orthodox Church by Emperor Justinian I to replace the original church by the same name that was torched.
4) The massive dome is held up by spherical triangles that arise from four huge piers that carry the weight of the cupola.
5) To create an air of sanctity, 40 windows beneath allow sunlight to suffuse the interior and irradiate the gold mosaics.
6) While it took nearly a century for medieval builders to construct the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, the church was completed in less than 6 years.
7) A variety of ornate mosaics were added over the centuries by each emperor after Justinian I. They included imperial portraits, images of the imperial family, different emperors, images of Christ and Virgin Mary with Jesus as a child.
8) Hagia Sophia served as an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral until 1453 AD when Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II who conquered Istanbul converted it into a mosque. It served as inspiration for many other Ottoman mosques including the Blue Mosque, Süleymaniye Mosque, Rüstem Pasha Mosque, Şehzade Mosque and Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque.
9) Although he added 4 minarets, each 60 meters tall outside the church, the Sultan's respect for the interior ensured that symbols of the church were merely covered and not removed during the conversion. Thereby allowing visitors today to enjoy this unique monument which straddles time and religion.
10) It remained a mosque until 1931 and was reopened in 1935 as a museum by the Republic of Turkey after being closed to the public for 4 years. It remains a museum and a unique architectural monument of art in Istanbul till today.