The Church of the Holy Wisdom, or Hagia Sophia, is a former Byzantine church and former Ottoman mosque located in Istanbul, Turkey. Sadly, nothing remains today of the original Hagia Sophia, which was built on this site in the 4th century by the Emperor Constantine, the first Christian emperor and the founder of Constantinople. The Hagia Sophia was the crown jewel of a number of Christian churches built in important cities by the emperor. After the destruction of Constantine’s church, his son Constantius and the emperor Theodosius the Great build a second church at the site; however, it was burned down during riots in 532 AD and only scant fragments of the remnants of this church survive today.
Hagia Sophia was rebuilt in her present form between 532 and 537 under the personal supervision of Emperor Justinian I. After the fall of Constantinople at the hands of the Ottomans in 1453, Hagia Sophia was converted into the principal mosque of Istanbul for almost 500 years. At first, very few structural changes were made by the ruling sultanate, with only a mihrab (prayer niche), minbar (pulpit) and a wooden minaret added to the former church. However, at some point, all of the faces depicted in the church mosaics were covered with plaster due to the Islamic prohibition on figurative imagery.
In 1934, under Turkish president Kemal Atatürk, Hagia Sofia was secularized and turned into the Ayasofya Museum. The prayer rugs were removed, revealing the marble beneath, but the mosaics remained largely plastered over and the building was allowed to decay for some time. Some of the calligraphic panels were moved to other mosques, but eight roundels were left and can still be seen today.
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