Hagia Sophia: Architecture Description

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03/05/18 Arts Reference this

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Basilicas were used for commerce, as public meeting places and for courts of law. The Hagia Sophia was built as the Byzantine Emperor, Justinian’s personal imperial church. It was built in the hopes of competing with the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. The Forum was built from a vast stoa-lined piazza measuring 660 by 390 feet (200x120m) with exedrae on two sides. The main entrance to the forum is on the southern side, a triumphal arch surmounted by a statue of Trajan in a six-horse chariot. The Basilica Ulpia lies at the north end of the piazza, which was cobbled with rectangular blocks of white marble and decorated by a large equestrian statue of Trajan. On either side of the piazza are markets, also housed by the exedrae. Justinian’s basilica was at once the culminating architectural achievement of late antiquity and the first masterpiece of Byzantine architecture. Its influence, both architecturally and liturgically, was widespread and enduring in the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Muslim worlds alike. The largest columns are of granite, about 19 or 20 meters high and at least 1.5 meters in diameter; the largest weigh well over 70 tons apiece. Under Justinian’s orders, eight Corinthian columns were disassembled from Baalbek, Lebanon and shipped to Constantinople for the construction of Hagia Sophia. The vast interior has a complex structure.

The nave is covered by a central dome which has a maximum diameter of 31.24meters (102ft6in) and a height from floor level of 55.6meters (182ft5in), about one fourth smaller and greater, respectively, than the dome of the Pantheon. The dome seems rendered weightless by the unbroken arcade of 40 arched windows under it, which help flood the colorful interior with light. Due to consecutive repairs in the course of its history, the dome has lost its perfect circular base and has become somewhat elliptical with a diameter varying between 31.24m (102ft6in) and 30.86m (101ft3in). The dome is carried on pendentives — four concave triangular sections of masonry which solve the problem of setting the circular base of a dome on a rectangular base.[15] At Hagia Sophia the weight of the dome passes through the pendentives to four massive piers at the corners. Between them the dome seems to float upon four great arches. These were reinforced with buttresses during Ottoman times, under the guidance of the architect Mimar Sinan.

At the western (entrance) and eastern (liturgical) ends, the arched openings are extended by half domes carried on smaller semi-domed exedras. Thus a hierarchy of dome-headed elements builds up to create a vast oblong interior crowned by the main dome, a sequence unexampled in antiquity. Despite all these measures, the weight of the dome remained a problem, which was solved by adding buttresses from the outside. All interior surfaces are sheathed with polychrome marbles, green and white with purple porphyry and gold mosaics, encrusted upon the brick. This sheathing camouflaged the large pillars, giving them, at the same time, a brighter aspect. On the exterior, simple stuccoed walls reveal the clarity of massed vaults and domes. The yellow and red color of the exterior was added by the architect Fossati during the restorations in the 19th century. Looking at the plan of Trajan’s Basilica, there seems to be good balance and symmetry in the design. The plan shows that the structure was huge, holding thousands of people if needed. The Hagia Sophia, while a large building in its right, to me still looks smaller and less grand because of its closed dome. Trajan’s basilica was open, giving it an even more open and expanse feeling. Hagia Sophia is also very symmetrical in design. In both cases, these structures were fully functional as community meeting places or religious places of worship. They reflected the wealth and power of their emperors who commissioned their construction. Each structure is huge and larger than life in their design: the Hagia Sophia was adorned with gold and beautiful mosaics on its interior walls while the Trajan’s Forum was large, open and had several statues and monuments built inside to honor Trajan.

Wikipedia contributors. “Trajan’s Forum.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 Apr. 2010. Web. 10 May. 2010.

Wikipedia contributors. “Hagia Sophia.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 6 May. 2010. Web. 10 May. 2010.

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