The Ayasofya Mosque, situated in Istanbul is one of the most famous and highly praised mosques of Turkey. What makes it so special is the fact that it was actually a church before it was transformed into a mosque and has a long history. It carries both the symbols and characteristics of a church and a mosque. In recent years an interesting discovery was also made in the Ayasofya Mosque that uncovered more details about the history of this important monument.
The name ‘Ayasofya’ comes from the word ‘Aya’ which means ‘sacred, holy’. The etymology of the word ‘Sofya’ comes from ‘sophos’ which means knowledge in ancient greek. So together the two form ‘Ayasofya’ which means ‘sacred knowledge’ which is also one of the three characteristics of God in Orthodox Christianity. It was first built by the Byzantine emperor, I. Justinianus between the years 532 and 537 as a church. It is known that around 10.000 men worked hard in the making of this incredible monument and that it was the largest Christian church in the eastern Roman Empire and the Eastern Orthodox Church. It is a very important monument for not only Turkish history but also architecturally it is the only monument that was built with a circular-shaped dome and has different kinds of marble from countries all around the world like Serbia, Egypt, and France. It contains different mosaics made with gold, and silver alongside glass and has a very unique indoor architecture. Surely, one of the most magnificent parts of the monument is the dome. It is filled with calligraphic works made by famous calligraphers of the 19th century. After the conquest of Constantinople by Mehmed the Conqueror in 1453, Ayasofya fell into the hands of the Ottoman Empire. It was transformed into a mosque and became an important mosque in Istanbul. While it was being converted, certain parts were removed such as the bells, the altar, the ambo, and certain Islamic architectural pieces were inserted like minarets or a minbar. The mosaics of Jesus, Mary, and angels were removed or covered up during the transformation. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the Turkish president of Turkey, turned the monument into a museum in 1935. Ayasofya was the second most visited museum in Turkey in 2014 with almost 3 million annual visitors. While it was a museum, experts worked on uncovering certain mosaics.
In 2009, they uncovered one of the four angel mosaics, which had been hidden behind a metal mask for 160 years. The six-winged angel is known to represent the seraphim, which is known to guard the gates of heaven. The Ayasofya museum was then opened to public use in 2020 and is currently being used as a mosque.
The Ayasofya, with its interesting history alongside its remarkable architecture, is certainly one of the most important monuments of Turkey and it still continues to surprise us today with its hidden mosaics that are yet to be revealed.