Thursday, August 17, 2023

Hagia Sophia: Istanbul's Ancient Mystery

Hagia Sophia is a Byzantine church that has survived a few tests of time across its 1500 years. It was a marvel of architecture when it opened in 537 CE in Constantinople, it now stands as a monument of resilience in Istanbul in a region subject to cultural change and seismic activity. Built in six years with no apparent budget restrictions, its novel innovations appear to make it a likely survivor of future earthquakes. Originally a Byzantine Christian church, it was repurposed as a Catholic church, then an Islamic mosque, and then a secular museum. Since this episode of NOVA was produced, it was once again repurposed as an Islamic mosque.

Whether serving as Christian church, Islamic mosque, or secular museum, Hagia Sophia and its soaring dome have inspired reverence and awe. For 800 years, it was the largest enclosed building in the world—the Statue of Liberty can fit beneath its dome with room to spare. How has it survived its location on one of the world's most active seismic faults, which has inflicted a dozen devastating earthquakes since it was built in 537? As Istanbul braces for the next big quake, a team of architects and engineers is urgently investigating Hagia Sophia's seismic secrets. Follow engineers as they build a massive 8-ton model of the building's core structure, place it on a motorized shake table, and hit it with a series of simulated quakes, pushing it collapse—a fate that the team is determined to avoid with the real building.

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