Hagia Sophia, Turkish Ayasofya, Latin Sancta Sophia, also called Church of the Holy Wisdom or Church of the Divine Wisdom, cathedral built at Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) in the 6th century CE (532–537) under the direction of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. By general consensus, it is the most important Byzantine structure and one of the world’s great monuments.
What Is the Hagia Sophia?
The Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish) was originally built as a basilica for the Greek Orthodox Christian Church. However, its function has changed several times in the centuries since.
Byzantine Emperor Constantius commissioned construction of the first Hagia Sophia in 360 A.D. At the time of the first church’s construction, Istanbul was known as Constantinople, taking its name from Constantius’ father, Constantine I, the first ruler of the Byzantine Empire.
The first Hagia Sophia featured a wooden roof. The structure was burned to the ground in 404 A.D. during the riots that occurred in Constantinople as a result of political conflicts within the family of then-Emperor Arkadios, who had a tumultuous reign from 395 to 408 A.D.
Arkadios’ successor, Emperor Theodosios II, rebuilt the Hagia Sophia, and the new structure was completed in 415. The second Hagia Sophia contained five naves and a monumental entrance and was also covered by a wooden roof.
However, a little more than one century later, this would again prove to be a fatal flaw for this important basilica of the Greek Orthodox faith, as the structure was burned for a second time during the so-called “Nika revolts” against Emperor Justinian I, who ruled from 527 to 565.