It was completed in 537. 537, guys. Sit with that for a while - I had to. That is a LONG time ago. It’s quite a reminder to us all that civilization has been around a long time before any of us ever got here. And in the interim, it (civilization, that is) has been lost more than once. It’s a reminder that, although a civilization can be powerful and influentiual, golden, it can only be maintained by people who remain humble to it. Most civilizations fall because of excess, debts and war. Of getting too comfortable. Of living beyond their means. It happened to the Byzantines, the Greeks, the Romans and many others.
Referred to as the 8th wonder of the world by some, the Hagia Sofia is certainly worthy of such a title. During the iconoclast era (in which some Christians argued that imagery of Jesus and Biblical stories was unacceptable because it took away from the true divinity of such figures) the Byzantine mosaics depicting Jesus and other biblical figures were covered or destroyed. About a century later, people started using pictorial imagery again and the images were brought back. Politics, go figure.
I’ve seen a million pictures of classic Byzantine art and let’s face it, most of it looks like the same darn thing over and over again: Jesus and Mary in some form or another, all with a little circle over their heads acting as a halo. But guys, guys this stuff is incredible. In person, its nature is illuminated. The minute details of the incredibly intricate mosaics and the shimmer of the gold tiles is something that just can’t be captured on film. Truly beautiful. To cover over such art seems a travesty.
When the Ottomans took over Istanbul in 1453, it was clear to them that Hagia Sofia was grand and incredible, so it was immediately converted to a Mosque. Because of this, all of the religious images of people had to be removed in accordance with Muslim religious law and so this time, the images were plastered over. Ironically, this preserved them and saved them through any unrest over the following centuries. In 1934 it became a museum and now both Christian and Muslim images and features are revealed together, showing its fascinating, ancient and varied history.
I could try to find words for the grandeur of it, but there aren’t any, really. You’ll have to come yourself one day and see. But the cool thing to learn about it, is how a place can be powerful, holy and meaningful to us despite any religious beliefs we may have. It is a wonder and marvel and worth taking care of because of its historical value.