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Hagia Sophia
Professor Robert Ousterhout
Istanbul, Hagia Sophia, Exterior view

With the construction of the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya Camii) a new type of church architecture developed in the eastern Mediterranean characterized by vaulted and domed—and decorated—interiors. For the Hagia Sophia we have the last great example of Roman architectural inventiveness on a grand scale. Monumentality combined with transcendence creates an architectural space characterized by an etherial vision. Although it may appear weightless, structure is a critical element in its design. (To view images of Hagia Sophia go to image index.)

Built between 532 and 537 to replace an earlier, 5th century church destroyed in the fires of the Nika Rebellion of 532. The rebellion devastated the city but resulted in the consolidation of the Emperor Justinian's power. With the restoration of his authority, Justinian began a rebuilding campaign at the center of which was the construction of a new cathedral, the Hagia Sophia. To accomplish this, he engaged the architects (mechanikoi) Anthemios of Tralles and Isidoros of Miletus. The dome was rebuilt after an earthquake caused its collapse in 557; rebuilt by Isidoros the Younger; there were also partial collapses in the 10th and 14th centuries. The church was converted to a mosque in 1453.

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