The Hagia Sophia

Sunday, December 22nd, 2019

The Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia was built between 532 and 537 under the command of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. Its name translates to ‘Holy Wisdom’ and it is an Eastern Orthodox Christian cathedral in Constantinople. It has an iconic central dome which is more than fifty-five metres in height and more than thirty metres in diameter. In 1453, when Ottoman forces captured the city, it became a mosque.


The Hagia Sophia is arguably the greatest surviving example of Byzantine architecture. It is decorated with mosaics and marble pillars and covering of great artistic value on its inside. There are arched openings on the western entrance, extended by half domes of an identical diameter to that of the central dome. At the direction of Fossati architects the exterior was decorated with yellow and red colours during restorations in the nineteenth century

The Hagia Sophia is known to have been a victim of numerous natural disasters and this can easily be seen from the exterior of the building. However, the interior of the building is protected by the use of GPR (Ground Penetrating Radar). It highlights the weak zones within the gallery and also lets architects know if the curvature of the dome of the vault has  shifted out of proportion.

Viking Graffiti

It is argued that the Hagia Sophia is one of the most important sites of Viking graffiti, as it contains not only runic inscriptions but also images of four Viking ships which date from the second half of the ninth century to the earlier part of the tenth century. One key thing these markings tell us is that there was contact between Scandinavia and Byzantium, which were both giant maritime cultures at the time.

Think twice about Graffiti…

It may have a bad rep but Graffiti took many forms in the Viking Age, and it was a very important form of literary expression. To read more about how Graffiti was important in the Age of Vikings then read the chapter on graffiti in Histories of the Unexpected: The Vikings.

Written by Tom Johnston

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