The Hagia Sophia, built from 532-537, is inarguably the masterpiece of Byzantine architecture and one of the greatest buildings ever constructed. Upon its completion, the Hagia Sophia remained the largest enclosed space in the world for nearly a thousand years, a reign that only ended after the rebuilding of St. Peter's in Rome. Fittingly, the rebuilding of St. Peter's was partly inspired by the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque in 1453.
The building of Hagia Sophia itself was shocking and transformational. Beginning with Procopius of Caesarea, Justinian's court historian, visitor after visitor noted that the giant dome seems to hover on air, and it's unquestionably true that the arches, vaults, semidomes, and domes add up for an otherworldly, ethereal effect. The surfaces are enriched by colored marble and elaborate mosaics, and when viewing from the aisles and galleries, looking into the nave is dramatic thanks to all the interconnecting layered spaces and repeating, complex curved forms. Interestingly, however, the brick exterior of the building was left unadorned, representing a shell that houses a magnificent interior.
The Hagia Sophia examines the history of one of the world's most famous religious sites and analyzes the religion and politics that shaped its fate.