This Day in World History
December 27, 537
Hagia Sophia consecrated
Impatient, the Emperor Justinian did not wait for the arrival of Menas, the patriarch of the Orthodox Church. Rather than entering the new cathedral jointly with the religious leader, he went in alone. Dazzled by the beauty of his structure, particularly its massive dome with a 105-foot diameter—meant to echo the vault of heaven—circled by forty windows at the base, the emperor is said to have proclaimed that he had outdone Solomon, builder of the famous temple of Jerusalem more than a thousand years before. Eventually, the patriarch arrived to consecrate the cathedral, called the Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), one of the most renowned buildings in the world.
The Hagia Sophia was actually the third church of its name built on the site. Construction of the first was completed in 360, but it was destroyed in a riot forty-four years later. The second church was erected in 515 but destroyed in the Nika riots of 532. Justinian immediately ordered the building of a new cathedral, larger and more beautiful than its predecessor. Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus designed the building. Construction took only five years.
The original dome partly collapsed in 558 as a result of an earthquake and had to be restored. In 1453, after the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine Empire, the building was converted into a mosque. The four minarets added in this repurposing also provide structural supports to the building. Some years after Kemal Ataturk founded Turkey in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, he converted the building into a museum, which it remains today.