Hagia Sophia – The World’s Most Amazing Building
Not so coincidentally, my favorite building in the world is in my favorite city in the world. Hagia Sophia, consecrated in 537 A.D., is one of the architectural greats. Considered simultaneously the greatest construction of late antiquity as well as the Byzantine world, Hagia Sophia reigned supreme as the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years until the construction of the Cathedral of Seville. In reality, there was nothing in the entire world that could compete with it from an architectural standpoint. (And there still isn’t in my mind.)
The Ottomans did their best to out-construct the wonder sitting in their backyard. And if we are talking about exteriors only, many would argue they succeeded with the Blue Mosque. But nothing compares with the cavernous interior of Hagia Sophia. There is something magical about the construction and the light, which clearly comes through in photographs; it almost looks computer generated. The building fills me with awe every time I see it.
Some may question my choice when there are so many incredible pieces of architecture out there like the Taj Mahal, Saint Peter’s, or the Temple of Karnak. But here are several reasons why I think Hagia Sophia is truly the most amazing building in the world.
Hagia Sophia has towered above Istanbul for nearly 1,500 years
The fact that any structure of this magnitude has survived at all is little short of a miracle. It’s even more surprising considering that this huge, domed building sits at the crossroads of humanity. Wars have swept through, armies have come and gone, and Hagia Sophia has survived them all.
The scale of the building is unbelievable
The scale of Hagia Sophia has to be seen to be believed. When it was constructed in 537 A.D., it was the biggest building in the world. The giant medallions gracing the walls dwarf the columns and the visitors. Did you even notice Thomas waving his hands in the picture?
The interior was originally filled with golden Byzantine mosaics
Originally, the ceilings of the Byzantine church were covered with stunning golden mosaics. When the Ottomans captured the church, they destroyed the mosaics or covered them with plaster. Centuries later, many of the remaining mosaics were uncovered and restored. Can you imagine what it would have looked like at its peak?
Hagia Sophia had the second largest dome in the ancient world
Hagia Sophia boasted the ancient world’s second largest dome. (The biggest was in the Pantheon.) However, because the 107-ft dome was supported on four pendatives, it enclosed the largest interior space in antiquity. It’s also much more shallow than the domes in Saint Peter’s or the U.S. Capitol Building, which makes it feel far more dramatic. Architects have been copying this building for a LONG time, but I personally feel they have never surpassed it.
Soaring Ottoman minarets add to the drama
The Ottomans added delicate, soaring minarets in the fifteenth century. I love to sit in one of the squares near Hagia Sophia and listen to the hypnotic call to prayer. I’m thinking you have to be a muezzin rock-star to work Turkey’s most famous minarets. So sound is an active component of this building’s appeal.
The ornate interior recalls the grandeur of two major empires
Every inch of Hagia Sophia’s interior is a work of art with centuries of stories to tell. The columns, the dome, and the stunning mosaics speak to the grandeur of Byzantium. The giant wall medallions, low-hanging lamps, and the ornate mihrab recall the magnificence of the Ottoman Empire. And don’t miss other treasures hidden within the world’s greatest building: the lustration urn from Pergamon, the Nice Door from a pagan temple in Tarsus, and – drum roll – the Emperor Door supposedly constructed out of wood from Noah’s Ark.
Hagia Sophia was one of the world’s greatest churches… and mosques
For nearly a thousand years, Hagia Sophia was the biggest church on the planet. It lost its title (but not its glory) to the Cathedral of Seville. Shortly thereafter, it became the most cavernous mosque on the planet. I feel pretty confident saying there aren’t many mihrabs in the world with a mural of the Virgin Mary and Jesus floating above! Amazing.
The gorgeous calligraphy leaves visitors in awe
At the center of Hagia Sophia’s dome there is a spectacular example of Ottoman-era calligraphy. It’s easy to miss in a building with so much detail, but it is worth taking a moment to enjoy it.
The view from the second floor balconies is overwhelming
Don’t forget to walk up the ramped passages at the side of the building to the second floor. The cobbled paths were designed to be wide enough to allow horses to ascend. There, Hagia Sophia’s greatest view awaits. Choose a place at the unique star railings and take in the view shown in our lead picture. For architecture fans, it just doesn’t get much better.
Thomas loves Hagia Sophia too!
Ok, it may not be his favorite building in the world, but Thomas does really love to sit in the gardens in Sultan Ahmet Square and just take in the magnificence of Hagia Sophia. It’s also one of Istanbul’s best places to people-watch. The square also plays a major role in our origin story. You could say this square is where our life of nomadic adventures really started. Now that I think of it, I might be a little biased when it comes to my choice for the world’s most amazing building.