The 1,500 year tale of the Hagia Sophia, an enormous building in Turkey.

By Ben  Lederer

The Hagia Sophia

Church, Mosque, Museum 

The Hagia Sophia:

Church, Mosque, and Museum 

By Ben Lederer 

I dedicate this book to... 

My amazing 6th grade English teacher, Ms. Jones.


     The Hagia Sophia. Ring a bell? This magnificent building is one of the Seven Wonders of the Medieval World, but it is not really known by many. It is a beautiful structure, and it has a history. It's previous buildings were burned down by riots, it was a church, a mosque, and is currently a museum. The Hagia Sophia has multiple mausoleums, all of which hold a sultan of the Ottoman Empire. It has been worked on by many architects, workers, and emperors, and it was in possession of three great nations: The Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Republic of Turkey. In addition, this mysterious structure is located in Istanbul, Turkey, and about 9.6 million people visit it each year. It is truly an exquisite building, and it deserves to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Medieval World.

The Amazing Hagia Sophia's Interior 

Constantius II

Emperor of the Byzantine Empire

February 15, 360


     Constantine the Great, Constantius II's father, was the first christian emperor of Rome. He ruled a part of Rome called East Rome, or the Byzantine Empire, because an emperor, Diocletian, decided to split it in half because it was getting so big. Constantine was also the first emperor of East Rome, and named the capital city Constantinople, present day Istanbul, Turkey, after himself. Since there were no churches around at the time, he decided to build a cathedral called the Hagia Sophia (pronounced hay ee uh so fee uh). Hagia Sophia means sacred wisdom in Greek. Sadly, in the middle of the building process, Constantine died, and workers were wondering if they should continue or stop. 


     Constantius II made them keep working for it, for his father's sake, and the city's. People thought Constantius was evil because he killed all his relatives excluding his brothers, just to get to the throne. His brother, Constantine II, was emperor of East Rome. Also, his other brother, Constans II,  was an emperor of East Rome before Constantius was ruler.


     The Hagia Sophia was completed on February 15, 360. Everyone was filled with joy that they were in possession of this amazing church that they could pray, sing, and laugh in. They did just that. But, after Constantius went on a journey to negotiate with many leaders, he caught a fever and died. This concluded the 24 year reign over East Rome, making him the longest reigning ruler that was a son of Constantine, and most successful. The emperors after Constantius made Constantinople very mad, and so furious that they burned down many buildings, including the Hagia Sophia, in 404. There were two riots. The first one only damaged the dome. The second burned down the entire building. Someone had to put a stop to this!

A map of Rome: the orange is West Rome, and the purple is East Rome, or the Byzantine Empire  

A statue of Constantius II on the very left,.

A statue of Constantine II on the right.

A statue of Constans II on the bottom.


Justinian I

Emperor of the Byzantine Empire

December 27, 537 

     Justinian "The Builder" of the Byzantine Empire, commanded that a third Hagia Sophia was built, 39 days after the second one was built by Theodosius II was burned down by even more riots. After five years of building, from February 23rd, 532 - December 27th, 537, the third and final Hagia Sophia was built. Justinian's famous words when the last lump was laid was," Solomon, I have outdone thee" because the church is 180 ft. tall, 270 ft. long, and 240 ft. wide.    


     Justinian commanded that two architects come and build it, and the combination of these two geniuses created the Hagia Sophia, different from all other Roman buildings, and more "Byzantine". The third Hagia Sophia was different from the original architectural design that Constantine the Great's architect made. But it was simialr in some ways. They both had massive, incredible domes, but this one was different.


     The magnificent emperor paid large sums of money to import many materials to get to Constantinople from all across his kingdom. After the materials came, 10,000 workers came to work on it. They used wooden contraptions like levers, pulleys, and others to lift themselves and the materials up to 180 feet in the air! There were no accidental casualties recorded.


     The people of Constantinople disliked Justinian because he raised the taxes dramatically during the construction of the Hagia Sophia, but after the Hagia Sophia was complete, priests started calling him a saint because of the all-out-awe of the Hagia Sophia.

A quick sketch of what the Hagia Sophia might have looked like before it changed. 

A mosaic of Justinan located in the Hagia Sophia 

Isidorus of Miletus

Co-arhitect of the Hagia Sophia

February 23, 532 - December 27, 537

     Isidorus of Miletus was a very skilled geomotrist, mathematian, engineer, and scientist, so when Justinian asked him to be the co-architect and designer of the Hagia Sophia, he couldn't refuse. He traveled all the way from southwestern Turkey to get to the build site. After going about 700 km (435 mi) to Constantinople from Miletus, Isidorus required some rest.


     Little is known about Isidorus’s history. We do know that his birthplace was in Greece but he moved to Turkey when he was very young, and he was born in 510.


     Construction began when the other architect, Anthemius of Tralles was fully recovered from the journey. They started planning the building right away. Isidorus designed arches 30 feet long. The dome was 180 feet high above the ground, but the architectural structure was the most amazing part: the dome was sitting right on top of a cube. This took months of planning to figure out how they would put the dome on a cube. They finally figured it out, and, alongside with that, there were many pillars to help support it. It is still confusing how they did it, but later, other architects found out how to support it.


     Furthermore, the dome had a total of 40 windows inside it, and it seemed like light was created in the dome. The parts of the church were made from marble, gold, a concrete-like substance, stone, limestone, and calcium silicate blocks made from mud and other raw materials. Also, there were many beautiful mosaics of Justinian, Mary, and others. But, the dome was putting too much weight on the initial structure, so Anthemius had to fix it.



A statue of Isidorus

A diagram of the Hagia Sophia

     Anthemius of Tralles noticed there were many cracks in the stone pillars and walls near the domes. He immediately sought out a solution.  


     Coming to Constantinople from Tralles (present day Aydin province), Turkey, was a 655 km (407 mi) journey. He was very tired and needed to rest up well. After his journey, Anthemius was born in 474 and came from a well educated family and his father, Stephanus and two of his brothers were doctors, and his other brother was a lawyer. He was born in Greece, like Isidorus, and moved to Tralles as a young man.


     He was a mathematician, geometrist, and scientist like Isidorus, but he was also a physicist. Anthemius left his brothers and father to go to Constantinople, and he never saw them again because he died while working on the great cathedral.


     He put pendentives, or triangular bases, under the dome, which made it way stronger than it was before. Anthemius put 4 arches that would hold the pendentives, and support the dome at the same time. Also, inside the walls, there were humongous piers that held up the dome. In addition to that, there were buttresses (structures built on a wall to give support to something) under the dome to support it! As well as that, he originally made the blocks out of calcium silicate, which will mold back up if they crack! The half domes next to it help support it, too! Yet, 20 years later, a destructive earthquake would occur, and a new architect would come and fix something that horror had crept on.

Anthemius of Tralles 

Co-Arhitect of the Hagia Sophia

February 23, 532 - 534

A diagram of the Hagia Sophia's dome and pendantives

An illustration of Anthemius

Isidore the Younger

Architect and Designer of the Re-Construction of the Hagia Sophia's Dome

May 7, 558

     After a devastating earthquake that shook the Hagia Sophia so much, the main dome fell down, Justinian called on Isidorus’s nephew, Isidore the Younger, to repair it. It took 6 years, which was more than the time it took to build the actual building.


     Isidore was very precautious about the planning. He wanted to keep the design and structure of it, but make minor little tweaks to it. He raised the dome by 6.25 meters (21 feet). He also used lighter materials, like hardened clay, to build the dome. There is still 40 windows, but he had to fix some of it. He also remodeled some parts of the dome and used old parts of that to make more bases for the actual dome itself.


     Many people were mad at Isidore because their holy church was under construction for a long time. But, the work turned out good. The Hagia Sophia didn’t need work for another thousand years, until the Ottoman empire took over.


A statue of Isidore the Younger

The Hagia Sophia's collums

A more precise diagram of the Hagia Sophia's upper parts

     Procopius the Historian was a well known man. He was a very smart scholar and wrote famous books about the time period of which he lived in. He was born in Caesarea, Israel, East Roman Empire in 500 AD. Procopius reviewed the Hagia Sophia and this is what he said:


     “[The Hagia Sophia is] distinguished by it’s indescribable beauty, excelling both in it’s size, and in the harmony of its measures, having no part excessive and no part deficient; being more magnificent than ordinary buildings, and much more elegant than those who are just out of proportion.


     “The church is singularly full of light and sunshine; you would declare the place is not lifted by the sun from without, but that the rays are produced within itself, such an abundance of light is poured into this church…”.


     The cathedral would not be disturbed for many many years, until the end of the Byzantine Empire…

Procopius of Caesarea 

Historian and Well Educated Scholar


One of Procopius's books: The Wars of Justinian

A painting of young Procopius

Mehmed II

Sultan of the Ottoman Empire

May 29, 1453 (The Fall of Constantinople)

     Mehmed lead many ships into Constantinople for a 54 day siege to take over the Byzantine Empire.  They succeeded on May 29, 1453, which was called the Fall of Constantinople. Many people died in this battle, for the East Roman military was weak because they did not fight many battles then. The Ottomans won and Constantinople was forced to give up East Rome to them.


     Mehmed was patrolling the city when he saw his warriors pillaging the Hagia Sophia. He stopped them, because he saw great value in the church. It was not going to be a church for much longer, though, because the Ottoman Empire was Islamic, so Mehmed instead turned the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, an Islamic place of worship.


     It is rumored that once inside the newly repaired mosque, Mehmed fell to his knees in prayer because there was a prophecy that the first Muslim to pray in the Hagia Sophia would live in a life of paradise. He changed it completely. Mehmed even put a mini- religious school inside the mosque. But he changed it even more after a great architect modified it.

A painting of Sultan Mehmed II

The Ottoman Empire in 1580

Mimar Sinan (Sinan the Architect)

Architect of the Modification of the Hagia Sophia Mosque


     Mimar Sinan was the chief architect of the Ottoman Empire, and he made many buildings like the Topkapi Palace, Selimiye Mosque, and Sinan Pasha Mosque. He was favored by many sultans and made many mosques. He thought the Hagia Sophia was so remarkable, he based many other buildings off of it.


     He got the job of repairing the Hagia Sophia. Sultan Selim II asked him to make the Hagia Sophia less vulnerable to earthquakes and other natural disasters, and he gladly accepted.


     Sinan mostly changed the exterior of it. He added structural supports and buttresses to it to strengthen the building, and put many mausoleums outside it. A mausoleum is a burial chamber. Many sultans were laid in the mausoleums there.


     He also put minarets on the corners of the Hagia Sophia to add the mosque touch. A minaret is a tall tower typically part of a mosque. The Hagia Sophia still stands to this day, thanks to the work of Sinan. But, it isn’t a mosque anymore. A very special person made a very special decision.

Older Sinan

The Hagia Sophia after Sinan fixed it up (what it looks like currently)

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

First President and Founder of the Republic of Turkey

February 1, 1935

     Mustafa Kemal Atatürk made a very important decision: he changed the Hagia Sophia into a museum. Being the first president of Turkey, he had to do something to prove himself worthy to the nation.


     He was a soldier in the Italo-Turkish War and World War I. Atatürk was also a noble politician in the Turkish War of Independence. Many people liked him, so after he signed the Treaty of Lausanne, which was like their version of the Declaration of Independance, they elected him President of the Republic of Turkey

     Restoring the former church/mosque, he gave a speech from the bottom of his heart. The Turkish people all clapped and cheered and were happy and proud and joyous and many other feelings that warmed their very souls. The President restored many gold mosaics that the Ottomans did not care about, and gave a chance for the people of his country and others to see the “indescribable beauty” of the Hagia Sophia.

A picture of President Atatürk

Current Turkey

     The Hagia Sophia. Now does it ring a bell? What do you picture? Isidorus planning the blueprint for it? The Ottoman Empire capturing it? President Atatürk cutting the ribbon to open it as a museum? Any way you imagine it, the Hagia Sophia went through many years, people, and all-out adventures.

Height from bottom of building to top of dome: 180 ft.

Diameter of dome: 102 ft.

Length of building: 82 ft.

Width of building: 240 ft.

Perimeter of building: 644 ft.

Area of building: 19,680 ft.

Weight of building:

Thickness/width of building block: 2 ft.

Length of building block: 20 ft.

Materials blocks made of: limestone, marble, calcium silicate, stone, concrete.

Appendix #1:

Dimensions of the Hagia Sophia

  • 284 AD: Rome Splits

  • 337 AD: Constantine I dies.

  • 537 AD: Hagia Sophia III is finished

  • 711 AD: Ottoman Empire captures Spain

  • 731 AD: Ottoman Empire captures India and Northwest Africa.

  • 800 AD: Charlemagne is emperor of west Rome.

  • 942 AD: Malcolm becomes King of Scots

  • 1000 AD: Viking Biarni Herlufsen gets first ever glimpse of North America before veering off course

  • 1116 AD: Byzantine Empire and defeats Turks at Philomelion

  • 1270 AD: King Louis IX dies in France, end of Seventh Crusade.

  • 1327 AD: Roman Emperor Louis IV invades Italy and captures part of it.

  • 1492 AD: Christopher Columbus discovers America

  • 1503 AD: Leonardo da Vinci paints the Mona Lisa

  • 1600 AD: William Shakespeare publishes Hamlet

  • 1776 AD: America signs the Declaration of Independance and breaks off from England.

  • 1814 AD: The original White House gets burned down in the War of 1812.

  • 1991 AD: Soviet Union falls

  • 2001 AD: 9/11 occurs.

Appendix #2:

Important Events in the Time of the Hagia Sophia

Click here for an article on the resoration of the Hagia Sophia


Click here to watch a short video on the Hagia Sophia


Ben Lederer goes to a middle school in Westchester, NY. He was born in New York City, but moved to Westchester as a toddler. His favorite band is AC/DC and loves to play baseball. He plays trumpet and piano and has one 8 year-old brother.

About the Author

Have you heard of the Hagia Sophia? It is an amazing and beautiful building in Istanbul, Turkey. This former church AND mosque is now a museum. Also, it was owned by the Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Royalty favored it, and many people visit this 1,500 year-old structure. This building was the largest church in the world for 1,000 years, until the Cathedral of Magdeburg was built. The Hagia Sophia awes the world in it’s dimensions, history, and all out incredibleness. This book will tell you even more than most people know about the Hagia Sophia.