13 Sage Facts About the Hagia Sophia

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iStock

Once the largest cathedral in the world, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, has stood for more than 1500 years along the banks of the Bosporus Strait and has housed three religious groups.

1. THE CHURCH WAS TWICE DESTROYED BY RIOTS.

First built in Constantinople in 360 CE and dedicated by the Roman Emperor Constantius II (son of Constantine, the founder of Constantinople), the initial, wood-constructed Hagia Sophia burned during a series of riots in 404 CE. In 415 CE, Emperor Theodosius II ordered the church rebuilt, but the Nika Revolt in 532 CE caused widespread death and destruction in the city, and the church was wiped out a second time.

2. THE FIRST GREAT BYZANTINE RULER ORDERED ITS RECONSTRUCTION.

Located in the Eastern Roman Empire region known as Byzantium, Constantinople was ruled for 38 years by the Emperor Justinian, starting in 527 CE. Five years after the Nika Revolt and the church’s destruction, Justinian inaugurated the newly rebuilt Hagia Sophia, the most important religious structure in his empire, on December 27, 537 CE.

3. THE CHURCH HAS GONE BY SEVERAL NAMES.

Initially called the Great Church (Megale Ekklesia in Greek, Magna Ecclesia in Latin) because of its immense size, the second incarnation of the church came to be known by the name Hagia Sophia around 430 CE. Its Greek meaning, "Holy Wisdom," remained after the church was rebuilt a century later. After conquest by the Ottomans it was called Ayasofya, and today it is the Ayasofya Müzesi.

4. THE ORIGINAL DOME WAS REPLACED AFTER AN EARTHQUAKE IN 558 CE.

Soaring 160 feet high, with a diameter of 131 feet, the grand feature of the Hagia Sophia was its large central dome. The dome and the church were designed by architects Anthemios of Tralles and Isidoros of Miletos, but unlike the dome of the Pantheon, which has never faltered, an earthquake in 558 CE caused the Hagia Sophia's dome to collapse. It was rebuilt to a height of 182 feet, and the walls were reinforced in 562 CE. The dome's weight is supported by a series of smaller domes, arcades, and four large arches.

5. ONE OF THE SEVEN ANCIENT WONDERS WAS USED IN THE CHURCH'S CONSTRUCTION.

To fortify (and beautify) the interior of the church, columns from the long-abandoned and destroyed Temple of Artemis in Ephesus were used for the Hagia Sophia. Additional building materials may also have come from ancient sites in Baalbeck and Pergamom.

6. IT'S A GREAT EXAMPLE OF BYZANTINE ART AND ARCHITECTURE.

Byzantium nurtured a centuries-long tradition of art, architecture, knowledge, theology, and literature in a style that fused Greek, Roman, and other Eastern traditions. Long after the decline of the Roman Empire from which it sprang, the Byzantine ruler Justinian spearheaded a series of urban reconstruction projects following the Nika Revolt and started with the Hagia Sophia. The new cathedral included the massive dome atop a rectangular basilica, abundant mosaics that covered nearly every surface, stone inlays, columns and pillars of marble, bronze doors, a marble door, a large cross at the dome’s apex, and a square area on the floor of the nave, paved in marble, called the omphalion, a place where emperors were crowned.

7. ICONOCLASM LED TO THE REMOVAL OF MANY PIECES OF ART

Meaning “image breaking” or “the smashing of images,” the period of iconoclasm (from about 726-787 CE and 815-843 CE) raged when the state banned the production or use of religious images, leaving the cross as the only acceptable icon. Many mosaics and paintings from the Hagia Sophia were destroyed, taken away, or plastered over.

8. A 90-YEAR-OLD, BLIND VENETIAN ONCE CAPTURED HAGIA SOPHIA.

During the Fourth Crusade in 1203 CE, Alexius IV managed to convince the Crusaders to help him take the throne of the Byzantine Empire in exchange for a series of promises and rewards. But just months later, he was murdered in a palace coup. The powerful Doge Enrico Dandolo, the chief magistrate of the Republic of Venice who was over 90 years old and blind, led the Latin Christians on a siege of Constantinople. The city and the church were sacked and desecrated, many golden mosaics were taken back to Italy, and Dandolo was buried at Hagia Sophia after his death in 1205 CE.

9. THE CHURCH BECAME A MOSQUE FOR 500 YEARS.

Centuries of sackings, conquests, sieges, raids, and crusades came to an end in 1453 CE with the fall of Constantinople at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, led first by Sultan Murad II and then his successor, Mehmed II. The city was renamed Istanbul, the church was looted for treasures, and Mehmed called for a restoration of the 900-year-old building and its conversion into a mosque.

10. A MULTITUDE OF ISLAMIC FEATURES WERE ADDED TO THE BUILDING.

To use the space as a mosque, the rulers ordered that a mihrab (prayer niche), minbar (pulpit), and a fountain for ablutions be added to the Hagia Sophia. A succession of minarets was added to the exterior, and a school, kitchen, library, mausoleums, and sultan’s lodge joined the site over the centuries.

11. THE SULTAN PROTECTED CHRISTIAN MOSAICS.

Instead of destroying the numerous frescoes and mosaics on the Hagia Sophia walls, Mehmed II ordered they be whitewashed in plaster and covered in Islamic designs and calligraphy. Many were later uncovered, documented, or restored by the Swiss-Italian architects Gaspare and Giuseppe Fossati.

12. BELIEVERS SAY THE 'WEEPING COLUMN' HAS HEALING POWERS.

Also called the "sweating column," the "wishing column," and the "perspiring column," the weeping column stands in the northwest portion of the church and is one of 107 columns in the building. The pillar is partly covered in bronze, with a hole in the middle, and it is damp to the touch. The alleged blessing of St. Gregory has led many to rub the column in search of divine healing.

13. THE FOUNDER OF MODERN TURKEY TURNED IT INTO A MUSEUM.

Former army officer Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded modern Turkey and served as its first president from 1923 to 1938. In 1934, after banning many Islamic customs and Westernizing the country, Atatürk and the Turkish government secularized the former cathedral and mosque and converted it into a museum.

7 Historic European Castles Virtually Rebuilt Before Your Very Eyes

A reconstruction of Spiš Castle in eastern Slovakia.
A reconstruction of Spiš Castle in eastern Slovakia.
Budget Direct

While some centuries-old castles are still standing tall, others haven’t withstood the ravages of time, war, or natural disaster quite as well. To give you an idea of what once was, Australia-based insurance company Budget Direct has digitally reconstructed seven of them for its blog, Simply Savvy.

Watch below as ruins across Europe transform back into the formidable forts and turreted castles they used to be, courtesy of a little modern-day magic we call GIF technology.

1. Samobor Castle // Samobor, Croatia

samobor castle
Samobor Castle in Samobor, Croatia
Budget Direct

The only remaining piece of the 13th-century castle built by Bohemia’s King Ottokar II is the base of the guard tower—the rest of the ruins are from an expansion that happened about 300 years later. It’s just a 10-minute walk from the Croatian city of Samobor, which bought the property in 1902.

2. Château Gaillard // Les Andelys, France

Château Gaillard in Les Andelys, France
Château Gaillard in Les Andelys, France
Budget Direct

King Richard I of England built Château Gaillard in just two years during the late 12th century as a fortress to protect the Duchy of Normandy, which belonged to England at the time, from French invasion. It didn’t last very long—France’s King Philip II captured it six years later.

3. Dunnottar Castle // Stonehaven, Scotland

Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven, Scotland
Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven, Scotland
Budget Direct

Dunnottar Castle overlooks the North Sea and is perhaps best known as the fortress that William Wallace (portrayed by Mel Gibson in 1995’s Braveheart) and Scottish forces won back from English occupation in 1297. Later, it became the place where the Scottish monarchy stored their crown jewels, which were smuggled to safety when Oliver Cromwell invaded during the 17th century.

4. Menlo Castle // Galway City, Ireland

Menlo Castle in Galway City, Ireland
Menlo Castle in Galway City, Ireland
Budget Direct

This ivy-covered Irish castle was built during the 16th century and all but destroyed in a fire in 1910. For those few centuries, it was home to the Blake family, English nobles who owned property all over the region.

5. Olsztyn Castle // Olsztyn, Poland

Olsztyn Castle in Olsztyn, Poland
Olsztyn Castle in Olsztyn, Poland
Budget Direct

The earliest known mention of Olsztyn Castle was in 1306, so we know it was constructed some time before then and expanded later that century by King Casimir III of Poland. It was severely damaged during wars with Sweden in the 17th and 18th centuries, but its highest tower—once a prison—still stands.

6. Spiš Castle // Spišské Podhradie, Slovakia

Spiš Castle in Spišské Podhradie, Slovakia
Spiš Castle in Spišské Podhradie, Slovakia
Budget Direct

Slovakia’s massive Spiš Castle was built in the 12th century to mark the boundary of the Hungarian kingdom and fell to ruin after a fire in 1780. However, 20th-century restoration efforts helped fortify the remaining rooms, and it was even used as a filming location for parts of 1996’s DragonHeart.

7. Poenari Castle // Valachia, Romania

Poenari Castle in Valachia, Romania
Poenari Castle in Valachia, Romania
Budget Direct

This 13th-century Romanian castle boasts one previous resident of some celebrity: Vlad the Impaler, or Vlad Dracula, who may have been an early influence for Bram Stoker’s vampire, Dracula. It also boasts a staggering 1480 stone steps, which you can still climb today.

[h/t Simply Savvy]

Drunken Thieves Tried Stealing Stones From Notre-Dame

Notre-Dame.
Notre-Dame.
Athanasio Gioumpasis, Getty Images

With Paris, France, joining a long list of locales shutting down due to coronavirus, two thieves decided the time was right to attempt a clumsy heist—stealing stones from the Notre-Dame cathedral.

The crime occurred last Tuesday, March 17, and appeared from the start to be ill-conceived. The two intruders entered the cathedral and were immediately spotted by guards, who phoned police. When authorities found them, the trespassers were apparently drunk and attempting to hide under a tarpaulin with a collection of stones they had taken from the premises. Both men were arrested.

It’s believed the offenders intended to sell the material for a profit. Stones from the property sometimes come up for sale on the black market, though most are fake.

The crime comes as Paris is not only dealing with the coronavirus pandemic but a massive effort to restore Notre-Dame after the cathedral was ravaged by a fire in 2019. That work has come to a halt in the wake of the health crisis, though would-be looters should take note that guards still patrol the property.

[h/t The Art Newspaper]

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