Hagia Sophia
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Hagia Sophia, also known as "the Great Church" ((Μεγάλη Ἐκκλησία), was the cathedral of Constantinople, erected in the center of the Constantinian city on the First Hill, very close to the Great Palace and the Hippodrome. Adjoined to the somewhat earlier church of Hagia Eirene, with which it shared the same enclosure, and together with the Hospice of Samson, they formed a large complex administered by the same clergy. The present building, erected by the Emperor Justinian I in the sixth century, is the third church of Hagia Sophia at the site. The first Hagia Sophia, built in the second half of the 4th century and known simply as the Great Church, and the second, 5th-century building were both destroyed by fires in the course of riots in Constantinople. After being a museum for several decades, it began officially functioning as a mosque, known as Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque (Ayasofya-i Kebir Cami-i Şerifi), in 2020.

The plan of the first two churches is unknown but it is reasonable to assume that they were timber-roof, three-aisled or five-aisled basilicas. The first Hagia Sophia was consecrated in 360 in the reign of Constantine´s son Constantius II. It burned together with the neigbouring Senate during the 404 riot and was perhaps first repaired by the Emperor Arcadius and then built anew or thoroughly reconstructed by Theodosius II (the inauguration of the church in 415). The only part that survived the fire was a circular building adjacent to the church; this may have been the same as the still standing skeuophylakion at the north-east corner of Hagia Sophia. The bread and wine for the liturgy in Hagia Sophia were prepared in the skeuophilakion, and gold and silver chalices, patens, gospel books and liturgical vessels were also stored there. In addition, written sources also enumerates a considerable number of precious relics that were kept in this building. The liturgical vessels and the relics were probably stored in rectangular round-headed niches that articulate the interior of the building on two levels (the upper niches accessible from a corbelled gallery to which an external staircase led). Other remains of the pre-Justinianic church were found in front of the narthex: The colonnade with a mosaic floor excavated before the World War II belonged to the monumental gabled propyleum that preceded the atrium of Theodosius´s cathedral.

The damage of Theodosius´ cathedral during the Nika Riot in 532 was the great opportunity for Justinian to build a church that surpassed all ecclesiastical structures not only in the city but also in the whole Roman and post-Roman world. Anthemios of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus were employed as master-builders, and it is clear that they approached the design of the church from a theoretical perspective, disregarding the constraints of empirical building practice. The construction progressed rapidly and the new church, a colossal domed basilica with an apse projecting to the east and with a total lenght about 135 m, was inaugurated on 27 December 537. The daring construction of the first dome and the fact that the church was erected with haste led to the collapse of the dome after the earthquakes of 557. Unfortunately, Procopius does not describe the the original dome in detail. On the other hand, it is clear from Agathias´ account of the rebuilding of the church that the original dome was larger and lower than the second dome which was constructed by Isidore the Younger, nephew of the original engineer. The church was re-consecrated in 562.10 The dome of Hagia Sophia is slightly smaller than the dome of the Pantheon in Rome; it has a diameter of 31.87 m and a height from floor level of 55.60 m. 

Hagia Sophia displays a radically innovative design, combining elements that had already emerged in Early Byzantine religious architecture (in the church of Sts Sergios and Bakchos, and maybe even in the church of St. Polyeuktos) but in an original way and on a vastly larger scale. The weight of the dome passes through the pendentives to four massive piers. Between them the dome seems to float upon four great arches of which the western and eastern ones are extended by half domes carried on smaller semidomed exedras. The central domed core of the church is flanked by aisles on the south and north sides and by two nartheces on the west side. Galleries above the aisles and the inner narthex were originally accessible by four spiral ramps adjoining the four corners of the church – now only that on the north-west corner is in use for this purpose.

The palace of the Patriarchs was also reconstructed after the Nika Riot. It was situated at the south-west corner of Hagia Sophia and comprised a long, possibly two-storied, vaulted hall flanked by smaller rooms. Only the north wall (with three large round-headed, now blocked, openings) and part of east wall as well as springings of vaults remain of the large hall. These remains of the main reception space of the palace can be seen above the Ottoman ablution fountains.11 There are further rooms once probably belonging to the Patriarchate. These are well preserved and are situated above the south-west vestibule of the church and on the top of the south-west access ramp. They are usually dated in the reign of Justin II and are decorated with figurative mosaics executed probably in the 9th century. Although directly accessible from the gallery of Hagia Sophia, they are not open to tourists.

The octagonal domed building (now one of the sultans´ mausolea), situated to the left when leaving Hagia Sophia through the south-west vestibul, may also have been originally part of the patriarchal palace. Its architecture and masonry point to the 6th century and it is usually identified as a baptistery. Although it served this function probably as early as the 9th- or 10th century, it may have been originally built as a small recetion hall of the patriarchs or a chapel because Paul the Silentiary (later 6th century) in his description of Hagia Sophia mentions a baptistery that was apparently north of the church, which is also confirmed by other post-sixth-century sources. The patriarchate was enlarged in the 7th century when the Thomaites Hall was added by one of the patriarchs of this name (Thomas I, 607-610, or Thomas II, 667-669).

Despite several additions and modifications made during its almost 1500 years long history Justinian´s Hagia Sophia retains in general much of its original appearance. Nevertheless, if we want to visualize the Great Church as it probably appeared in 537 it is above all necessary to remove four Turkish minarets and outer buttresses surrounding the church on all sides. The outer buttresses are to be dated in the middle and late Byzantine periods: The flying buttresses on the west façade and those in the middle of both long sides as well as the south-west buttress belong to the former group while more massive buttresses on the east side of the church to the latter group (built by Andronikos II Palaeologos).

The silhouette of the church in 537 also differed from the present state as the dome was originally lower and its curvature was similar to that of the four pendentives marking the transition between the four big piers and the drum of the dome. The present dome rises about 6 m higher than the original one. Moreover, the interior of the church was brighter than it is today. Besides blocking some windows by adding the outer buttresses, the principal alteration of fenestration occured after the first dome collapsed and was rebuilt: on the walls beneath the south and north big arches supporting the dome, were in 537 larger windows than the present ones (these are even smaller than after the rebuilding during Justinian´s reign due to later, probably Ottoman, interventions).15 In addition, the south-west and north-west porches does not seem to be part of the original design – the former was created when the rooms opening off the south gallery and belonging to the patriarchate were built (which also included modification of the top of the south-west access ramp tower).

The most important loss is the disappearance of the Justinianic atrium that preceded the church on the west. The atrium extended westwards from the outer narthex for about 42 m and its three sides opened into the courtyard through pairs of columns alternating with piers. In the centre of the atrium was an elaborated marble fountain. The atrium disappeared in the Ottoman period and the last columns and piers were demolished in 1870s. In addition Hagia Sophia was in the 6th century surrounded by courtyards on all sides;18 only the patriarchate, the Great Baptistery (on the north flank) and the earlier skeuophylakion adjoined the cathedral. The facades of Hagia Sophia were neither plastered nor presented their brick masonry but they were faced with white Proconensian marble slabs.

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Hagia Eirene and Hagia Sophia

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Naos and Aisles
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Theotokos and Christ Child in the apse o

Mosaic of Archangel Gabriel

Fragmentary Inscription from Apse

From Mango & Hawkins

Apse Inscription (now largely lost)

Ἃς οἱ πλάνοι καθεῖλον ἐνθάδ᾿ εἰκόνας ἄνακτες ἐστήλωσαν εὐσεβεῖς παλίν

“The images, which the imposters had cast down, here pious emperors have again set up”

Mosaic fragment of Archangel Michael of

Fragmentary Mosaics of Archangel Michael

Sketch of eastern arch mosaics

Mosaic of St. John the Baptist in arch o
Mosaic of Virgin Mary in arch of Hagia S

Fragmentary Mosaic of St. John the Baptist and the Virgin Mary


Sketch of John V Palaiologos

Fossati (1847–1849)

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Mosaic of a Seraph

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Watercolor of Christ Pantokrator

Fossati (1847–1849)

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Northern and Southern Tympana​​

St. Ignatius of Antioch in the Northern Tympanum 

St. Ignatius the Younger in Northern Tympanum

Monogram from southern tympanum

Monogram ΚΥΡΕ (Κύριε “Lord”)

St. John Chrysostom in the Northern Tympanum


Mosaics of the northern tympanum


Mosaics of the southern tympanum

Fossati (1847–1849)

Mosaics of the southern tympanum

From Salzenberg (1854)

Reconstruction of Northern and Southern Tympana from Mango

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Inner Narthex
Imperial Door Mosaic with Emperor at Hag

Mosaic of Emperor and Christ above the Imperial Door

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Bronze relief above Imperial Door of Hagia Sophia

Inscription based on John 10:9 (with elements of 10:7) Εἶπεν ὁ κ(ύριο)ς | ἐγώ εἰμι | ἡ θύρα τῶν | προβάτων· | δι᾿ ἐμοῦ || ἐάν τις | εἰσέλθῃ | εἰσελεύσετ(αι) | κ(αὶ) ἐξελεύσετ(αι) | κ(αὶ) νομὴν | εὑρήσει.

 “I am the gate [of the sheep]; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.”

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Deesis Mosaic

Empress Zoe and Constantine IX Monomacho

Zoe and Constantine IX Monomachos with Christ Pantokrator

John II Komnenos and Eirene of Hungary with their son Alexios with the Virgin and the Christ Child

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Mosaic of Emperor Alexander at Hagia Sop

Mosaics of Emperor Alexander (912-913) 

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Southwest Vestibule
Constantine and Justinian with the Theot

Constantine and Justinian with the Theotokos and Christ Child

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Pascal Sébah (c.1875)

Inscription and monograms of Beautiful Door

[Θεοφίλου καὶ] — Μιχαὴλ νικητῶν

Κύριε, βοήθει — Θεοφίλῳ δεσπότῃ
Θεοτόκε, βοήθει — Θεοδώρᾳ αὐγούστῃ
Χριστὲ, βοήθει — Μιχαὴλ δεσπότῃ

ἔτους ἀπὸ κτίσεως — κόσμου ,ςτμθ’ ινδ. δ

[Of Theophilos and] Michael the victorious

Lord, help — Theophilos Emperor

Mother of God, help — Theodora Augusta

5. Christ, help — Michael Emperor

Year from the creation — of the world 6349. Ind. 4 [841]

Rooms above Southwest Vestibule and Ramp
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Deisis, lunette, and south wall, looking
Deisis, Virgin and Christ. After cleanin

Mosaic of the Deesis (Virgin and Christ)

Room over Southwest Vestibule

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Southwest Room over Vestibule

Lunette Bay 3, east side, fragment of Si
Lunette Bay 3, east side, fragment of Pa

East lunette of south bay

Mosaics of Patriarch Nikephoros and Simon Zealot

Saint Constantine and Saint Stephan, fra

Mosaics of St. Stephan and St. Constantine

Vault of south bay

Mosaics in soffit of south window, fragm

Mosaics in soffit of south window

Mosaics of the southwest buttress, apse

Mosaics of the southwest buttress

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection 

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The monograms of Justinian (IOYCTINIANOY) at Hagia Sophia are box monograms, based on the letter N, with the letter I contained in its upright. Both the letters T and a square C (Sigma) are to the right, with the letter A inserted within the left side of the N (in more than one variation), and the OY diphthong crowning the monogram. The majority of the monograms of Theodora (ΘEOΔѠPAC) are of the cruciform type, with the letters Θ (Theta), E, Ѡ (Omega), and A being attached to the cross. The O is incorporated in the Θ (Theta), while in some cases the Δ is formed by added a bar beneath the A. The box monograms of ΒΑCΙΛΕѠΣ (basileos or emperor) based on the letters B and E with the letter Ѡ (Omega) above.

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Baptismal font

Baptistry/Mausoleum (Türbe) of Mustafa I

Baptistry/Mausoleum (Türbe) of Mustafa I and Ibrahim I

Skevophylakion (Treasury) of Hagia Sophi

Skevophylakion (Treasury)

Minbar and Mihrab in the apse of Hagia S

Minbar and mihrab in Hagia Sophia’s apse

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Sultan’s Lodge (Hünkâr Mahfili)

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Library of Mahmud I

Sıbyan Mektebi (Primary School) and Muvakkithane (“Clock-Room”)

Ottoman sundial

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Mausoleum (Türbe) of Selim II (right) and Mausoleum (Türbe) of Murad III (left) with Sultanahmet Mosque in the background

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Fountain (Şadırvan)

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İmaret Kapısı (Soup Kitchen Gate)

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Marmara Sea Walls, Hagia Sophia and Hagi
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Aerial photo by Kadir Kır


Ambo (pulpit) of Hagia Sophia 
From the 10th century Menologion of Basil II (Vat.gr.1613


Leo VI exhibits liturgical objects in Hagia Sophia to Arab ambassadors from Tarsus and Melitene

From 12th century Madrid Skylitzes (Biblioteca Nacional de España)


Depiction of Constantinople with Hagia Sophia and the city walls

From 13th-14th century manuscript (Vat.gr.1851)

From map of Constantinople by Cristoforo Buondelmonti (1422)

From Bibliothèque nationale de France

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Depictions of Hagia Sophia from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

From map of Constantinople by Matrakçı Nasuh (c. 1537)

Depictions of Hagia Sophia from the Freshfield Album (1574)

Trinity College Library

Panel from panorama of Constantinople by Melchior Lorck (1559)

From Leiden University

Ottoman depiciton of Hagia Sophia (17th century)

From Bibliothèque nationale de France

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From Guillaume-Joseph Grelot (1680)


Drawings by Cornelius Loos (1711)

At Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, Sweden

Drawing by Robert Walsh (1836)

Drawing by W.H. Bartlett (1838)

From Jean Brindesi (1845)

From Victor Godard-Faultrier (1857)


Gaspard Fossati (1852)


Gaspard Fossati (1852)

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Philippe Chaperon (1893)

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James Robertson (1857) / NGA

Francis Bedford (1862)

Basile Kargopoulo (c.1875)

Abdullah Frères (c. 1880s)

Abdullah Frères (c. 1880s)

Guillaume Berggren (1880s)

Sébah & Joaillier (c.1890)

Sébah & Joaillier (c.1890)

Sébah & Joaillier (c.1890)

Sébah & Joaillier (c.1890)

Solita Solano (1922)


Madrasa, which functioned as an orphanage before its destruction in 1936

Encümen Archive (1936)

Postcard after 1933

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Charles W. Cushman (1965)

Indiana University Archives

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Study of light (1948)

Image Collections & Fieldwork Archives, Dumbarton Oaks

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Salzenberg (1854)

Seals from Hagia Sophia at Dumbarton Oak

Seal of Ignatios, Patriarch of Constantinople (847-58, 867-77)

Seal of Photios, Patriarch of Constantinople (858-67, 877-86)

John VIII Xiphilinos, Patriarch of Constantinople (1064-75)

Priests and Ekklesiekdikoi (14th century)


Byzantine Architecture by Cyril Mango

Brickstamps of Constantinople by Jonathan Bardill

Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls: Byzantion, Konstantinupolis, Istanbul by Müller-Wiener

Byzantine Churches in Constantinople: Their History and Architecture by Alexander Van Millingen

La géographie ecclésiastique de l'Empire byzantin by R. Janin

Les Eglises de Constantinople by Ebersolt and Thiers

Converted Byzantine Churches in Istanbul: Their Transformation Into Mosques and Masjids by S. Kirimtayif

Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium edited by Alexander Kazhdan

The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies edited by Cormack, Haldon, & Jeffreys

The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian edited by Michael Maas

Hagia Sophia (Great Online Encyclopaedia of Constantinople)


Hagia Sophia Album (Byzantine Legacy Flicker) 

Mosaic Portraits of Hagia Sophia Album (Byzantine Legacy Flicker)

Seals from Hagia Sophia at Dumbarton Oak

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Created by David Hendrix Copyright 2016