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Reflecting the Mind of the
Vatican since 1850
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Hagia Sophia: From museum to mosque
On November 29, 2014, during his apostolic trip to Turkey, Pope Francis visited the Hagia Sophia Basilica in Istanbul. Hagia Sophia – in Turkish Aya Sofya – is an ancient monument that dominates the entire city, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. At the end of the visit he wrote in Greek characters in the Golden Book of Guests: Hagia Sophia tou Theou, The Holy Wisdom of God.

The basilica, a culmination of technical expertise and architectural wonder, has been described as “a work of divine inspiration,” the “place between earth and sky,” the “eighth wonder of the world,” and the “symbol of imperial power.” Hagia Sophia was commissioned and built in 537 by the Emperor Justinian and his wife, Theodora, and then, after a fire, rebuilt in 562. It was the largest basilica in Christendom and the world – the Megale Ekklesia – the most important church in Constantinople, where the Byzantine emperors were crowned.

The city, founded by Constantine as the New Rome, also established itself as the religious capital of Christianity. Today the Greeks still call it Constantinople. It has had several names over time, including the ancient name of Byzantium. The current name, Istanbul, comes from the Greek, from the common expression eis tēn polin, and means ad Urbem, that is “[go] to Rome,” as in the New Rome.
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