Why Hagia Sophia remains a potent symbol of spiritual and political authority

Built in the sixth century by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, this marvel of architecture and aesthetics was never just a religious enterprise.

The emperor needed a spectacular means of establishing his authority and quelling internal rebellions that threatened his rule.

Justinian, called “the builder of the world” by his chronicler Procopius, hoped the monument – a cathedral – would help establish his political domain and unify a fractious Christian church divided by theology and competing regional power bases. …

Turning the Hagia Sophia into a museum demonstrated that the building’s composite history could exemplify the power of secular modernity. This involved restoration of the structure, removal of the plasters over the mosaics, and, eventually, adding a gift shop and ticket booth.

By, Anne Bigelow, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Stanford University

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