The Hagia Sophia Cathedral is an enormous architectural centerpiece in Istanbul, Turkey. It was initially built as a Christian basilica more than 1,500 years ago. Similar to the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Parthenon in Athens, the Hagia Sophia is an iconic symbol in Istanbul. Its role in the history of Istanbul is also significant because of the long history in the region relating to religion, art and architecture.

Hagia Sophia is a former Orthodox basilica and is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. There is a long and complex history associated with the cathedral, but it is most recognized for the size of the building itself and the complex structure of the large interior.

The nave is covered by a central dome 182 feet from floor level, supported by 40 arched windows. The mosaic on the main dome is believed to be an image of Christ and is covered by gold calligraphy. The cathedral is widely known for its enormous size, and particularly so because the walls holding up the large dome are mostly made of mortar instead of masonry. In fact, this was the largest cathedral in the world until the Seville Cathedral was built some 1,000 years later.

The Hagia Sophia was originally built as a basilica for the Greek Orthodox Christian Church. However, its function has changed several times in the centuries since. Byzantine Emperor Constantius commissioned the construction of the first Hagia Sophia in 360 A.D.

Greek Orthodox was the official religion of the Byzantines, and the Hagia Sophia was considered the central church of the faith. The cathedral became the place where new emperors were crowned and served as an important role in Byzantine culture and politics for much of its first 900 years of existence.

However, during the Crusades, the city of Constantinople, including the Hagia Sophia, was under Roman control for a brief period in the 13th century. The Hagia Sophia was severely damaged during this time, but it was repaired when the Byzantines once again took control.

With time, the cathedral has encountered many repairs and changes. During a restoration from 2004-2018, a team of archaeologists worked at the site and were surprised at their many discoveries.

Since 1935, the legendary structure has been operated as a museum by the national government and attracts more than three million visitors annually. For more information, visit www.hagiasophia.com.