Armenian Footprint in Architecture of Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia — former Christian Cathedral of Saint Sophia in Istanbul was transformed into Mosque in 1453 after being conquerred by Osmans. Starting from 1935 the Cathedral was granted the status of museum and monument of Antique architecture. In 1985 it was included in the list of World Heritage by the list of World Heritage by UNESCO. However in 2020 accroding to the Government of Turkey, the museum’s status was again shifted to mosque.

While the world is in hot discussions and indignation around the status of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, we recalled a less known fact in the history and architecture of this amazing cathedral. Article by Erna Revazova, Ex-Editor-In-Chief of “Yerevan” Magazine. 

Guides of Hagia Sophia most likely won’t tell you about Armenian architect, who reconstructed Hagia Sophia’s dome in 989, after a strong earthquake. One can find the name of the architect and constructor only in “World History”, Armenian records of early XI century, by Stepanos Taronetsi.  

«…even the Cathedral of Saint Sophia from the top to bottom was ruined to pieces. Many skilled Greek masters tried to reconstruct it. There was an Armenian constructor Trdat. He showed the plan and model of the dome, created with amazing mastery, and started to work. So the Cathedral was reconstructed even more graceful than before».

Trdat was the courtier architect of the Armenian Bagratids dynasty and constructed the Cathedral in Ardin. Other applicants, who used to work with ropes, never submitted a model or plan of the dome.

Trdat could be supported by Emperor Basil II (958—1025). According to chronicles, during the expansion of the Byzantine Empire to the east, he met with Armenian constructors and philosophers. However, the determinative factor in choosing Trdat for this project was his extensive experience in constructing domes based on pendentives — constructional devices permitting the placing of a circular dome over a square room. 

Trdat received prestigious and quite profitable order. According to the “Review of History” by John Skilica, only scaffoldings cost a thousand pounds of gold.

Noteworthy, that it was the second reconstruction of Hagia Sophia. For the first time, the dome fell off in May, 558, only 21 years after the construction of the Cathedral. 
Trdat laid out the dome with clay jars, one by one inserted one into another, in full accordance with the traditions of Armenian church architecture. As a result, both the dome was lighter and the acoustics of the church was better… 

The dome of Hagia Sophia has been there for already over a thousand years. Trdat’s work has successfully passed both the tests of time and the burden of the Ottoman warriors who climbed the “vault of heaven” to change the cross for a crescent. 

Erna Revazova

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