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Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

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Published by: mi7sen on Mar 02, 2010
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07/29/2010

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Abdulmohsen AlreeshArc 231 History of ArchitectureSteven Ehlbeck Word count 1581Hagia SophiaThe architects of Hagia Sophia attempted to create an supreme house of god, one that no other buildingcould be compared to – a building which implied the presence of god through both the clever handling of light,and the masking of structural elements to imply that the Hagia Sophia was held up by god himself. The structureof the Hagia Sophia is an evolved version of a basilica church layout, vividly shifting the space from rectilinearto circular and creating a spatial experience rivaling the Pantheon. Elaborate decorations and diffused light givethe interior of the divine house the sense of being lit from within by the presence of god himself. These designsserve a dual purpose of submerging the structural aspects of the church: architectural functionality is concealedby ornamentation, resulting in a form both delicate and sturdy and held up by the will of god alone. Thecombination of a rectilinear with a centralized design is handled by making the nave inaccessible to all but theholiest visitors; this serves the double purpose of reconciling two very different building styles, and reinforcingthe aura of spiritual mystery surrounding the cathedral. In this way, the Hagia Sophia is both an extraordinarycombination of distinct church traditions and a classic example of the early Christian approach to worship.The architectural tradition of the Hagia Sophia rests on two primary building philosophies. The first isthe style of a rectilinear basilica. The layout of a traditional basilica emphasized the processional characteristicof a church, as a longitudinal design resulted in a linear flow from narthex, to nave, and to apse, concluding atthe altar. The forward placement of the atrium was perfect as a gathering place for crowds and the transitionfrom the outside world to the sacred interior before the service, and in particular for accommodating the un-baptized, who were not permitted to enter. Mosaics were often used for decoration, depicting stories, saints, andChristian teachings. As church design advanced, both longitudinally based and centralized churches embraceddome construction as a way of representing the heavenly sphere and complimenting the earthly realm of ground
 
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and walls. In fact, the Hagia Sophia was not the first church to integrate a longitudinal design with a dome; theSt. Irene Church is an earlier form of this design, which counters the thrust of its dome with large rectangularpiers.The Hagia Sophia was, however, questionably the first church to achieve complete success in combiningthe features of earlier basilicas with a domed design, linking longitudinal movement, centralized space, andheavenly domes to create an impressive processional space that was both highly functional and visuallyappealing. It was more or less a basilica with a central dome flanked by semi domes on both the front and back facades. As in the St. Irene church, rectangular piers countered the dome’s thrust. Most strikingly, the difficultmarriage of a linear, processional space with the centralization implied by a heavenly dome was finallyperfected. This union was accomplished partly by the influence of the double shell concept from the DomusAurea in Rome. This system effectively splits the church space into two separate parts, the surrounding aislesand galleries that could be accessed by common people, and the central area under the great dome where onlythe priests and emperor were allowed. Therefore, the undeniable peak of the spatial experience was largelydenied to common people, and became almost the select domain of the emperor and the church leaders. Thisdivision improved the mystical nature of the church, and linked the clergy and the emperor more closely with thedivine.As a Christian church, the Hagia Sophia needed to be able to accommodate traditional forms of Christianworship; the longitudinal form was well suited to the purpose, but the centralized dome, was treated in adifferent way than in other domed structures such as the Pantheon. The collective nature of early Christianworship required a space able to hold large crowds, and the processional nature of the worship necessitated alongitudinal, linear design. The basilica design satisfied both of these requirements. At the same time, thedouble shell structure separates the space into public and private areas. This is in contrast to the Pantheon,which is centralized but lacks the double shell; this prevents the splitting of space that occurs in the HagiaSophia. Such a singular space is clearly not ideal for the Christian worship, as it lacks the necessary sense of 
 
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procession. By preventing common people from accessing the central area, the longitudinal aspect is preservedin a structure whose most striking characteristic from the outside is a central dome.The manner in which the Hagia Sophia linked the square structure of a basilica with the circular form of a central dome is also outstanding. This was accomplished by resting the dome on pendentives, shifting thesquare form of the basilica into a circle. This again contrasts with the Pantheon, which utilized only a circularshape. Additionally, the Hagia Sophia featured numerous domes, which streamlined the connection between acurved space and the rectilinear basilica layout.Another dramatic shift in the representation of a dome when comparing the Hagia Sophia to thePantheon was in how structural necessities were highlighted or downplayed. In the Pantheon, the dome was heldin place with thick walls that were not hidden, revealing the structural system supporting the dome. The HagiaSophia attempted to mask the architectural necessities of its massive dome, instead preferring to create the look that the dome was held aloft by the hand of god himself. The cathedral’s dome applied powerful forces, andimmense piers were required to support its weight. Despite these massive structural necessities the interior of the Hagia Sophia however attains a feeling of lightness. The Pantheon dome also has an occulos letting in lightfrom above – this also serves as a mark of respect to the deities who dwell in the heavenly sky. The HagiaSophia takes a different approach, opting to instead filter in light through many windows. The light becomesmuch more dispersed with the external light source hidden from the visitor. This reinforces the perception thatluminosity is created within the building itself, symbolizing the presence of god. The diffused light is used toamplify the decorations within the Hagia Sophia. Reflective marble surfaces thrive, reflecting the abundant lightand mirroring descriptions of the holy city of Jerusalem, which is said to not need the sun, or the moon for theglory of god is its light. The Hagia Sophia attempts to replicate this feeling by splitting the connection betweenillumination and the sun or moon. Another function of the reflective surfaces is to render structural masses assurfaces, lessening the weight of the building like a membrane.

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