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Visions of Heaven shows more than images, including the Roman Pantheon, the Byzantine churches of Turkey, the great domes of the.
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This caused structural problems that were only exacerbated by a dome that was too shallow. To fix these problems Isidore the Younger increased the height of the dome, which increased the arc and depth, and added forty ribs to provide support. Before these improvements, however, he was forced to rebuild much of the walls and semi-domes in order to make the new dome longer lasting than the first. Ancient sources, both contemporaries of the building of Hagia Sophia and later descendants, vary in their comprehension and description of Hagia Sophia and the dome.

A literary account that attempts ekphraesis renders the subjective experience of the witness in prose or verse and better reveals the beauty and impact of a structure. As shown in this description by a ninth century patriarch of Constantinople named Photios: It is as if one were stepping into heaven itself with no one standing in the way at any point; one is illuminated and struck by the various beauties that shine forth like stars all around.

Then everything else seems to be in ecstasy and the church itself seems to whirl around. We use these ideas and literary tropes to represent static objects. For example, a metaphor of whirling heavens to describe how Hagia Sophia looms weightlessly above the viewer. These literary projections narrate intended actions and events. Hagia Sophia and other Byzantine churches are symbols in themselves. The very idea of the church as a house of the uncircumscribable [sic] divinity is equal in its paradox to the incarnation itself.

As Webb shows, the sacred space itself is representational of religious beliefs and cosmological understandings. On the other hand, these symbolic descriptions are limited in that they lack objectivity which leads us to twentieth century catalogers of Hagia Sophia who use objective and mathematical understandings to further their comprehension.

In the twentieth century many architectural engineers objectively measured Hagia Sophia and inspected how it was designed, executed, and built. The current structure and dome, as envisioned by Isidore the Younger, described in the following passaged from Rabun Taylor uses Byzantine feet8: Of a broad, rectangular basilican plan, Hagia Sophia is oriented roughly on an east-west axis. The crown of the present dome, which is just over Byzantine feet in diameter, hangs Four main piers made mostly of limestone and greenstone ashlars, define the corners of the central foot square of floor that lies beneath the dome.

David Stephenson

They rise These culminate at feet in a somewhat deformed circle of flat marble blocks upon which the dome rests… The main east and west arches serve as the terminations of the two main semi-domes which, being roughly full quarter spheres, have slightly smaller surface radius than the main dome. The semi-domes extend the name to nearly its full length, and are each supported by the main piers and two secondary piers. The aesthetic qualities of a geometric design are what most concern the twentieth century work on Hagia Sophia.

Due to the association of beauty, harmony, and mathematics, an objective description of Hagia Sophia reveals certain beauty about its design.

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This is true of many structures built in Ancient Rome and Late Antique 8 1 Byzantine foot is equal to 1. Taylor page 76 Footnote 5. According to Butler, the pendentive is a geometric solution to an engineering problem that simultaneously creates aesthetic affect. The [pendentives] concave triangle is, in essence, an inversion of the capital's convex form. However, the concept of the dome itself is much older and is a synthesis of both poetic and geometric descriptions. In fact, each objective, twentieth century, describer of Hagia Sophia admits their description is limited. Therefore, a description of the effects of a dome in general, and Hagia Sophia specifically, has on a witness is necessary for this paper.

The dome of Hagia Sophia crowns and dominates the structure itself. Therefore it is imperative to comprehend what a dome is what it signifies. The dome is an ancient form that today has come to mean a hemispherical structure. To the naive eye of men uninterested in construction, the dome, it must be realized, was first of all a shape and then an idea. As a shape which antedated the beginnings of masonry construction , was the memorable feature of an ancient, ancestral house. There is physical evidence for these sacred spaces as far back as Ancient Egyptian tombs. The earliest homes and shelters, of migratory peoples, would have been tents and before that even, the open sky.

These great, sacred, structures are influenced by the past, by the world, and by their cosmological or religious understandings. These religious understandings are represented by metaphorical interpretations of the cosmos. These Roman, and therefore Byzantine, understandings as symbolized by the shape of the dome are listed here by Smith: By the late Roman Empire, when the dome was acquiring so much distinction as a symbol of celestial greatness and imperial immortality, its ideology was further enriched by the popular ideas already associated with similar shapes, such as the tholos, mundus, heroon, sacred baetyl, omphalos, divine helmet, umbrella, cosmic egg, and pine cone, also by the interests of the Orphic cults in a celestial cosmogony and a heavenly salvation, and by the introduction of ancient Indian beliefs regarding the cosmic significance of the dome.

All three of these directly imply the sacred and supernatural in the Mediterranean world. First, the dome as mundus represents the world and universe and how it supports and sustains human life as a gift from God. Second, the dome as omphalos represents the connection of the world and humankind. The navel of the world is an ancient archetype that symbolizes on the innate connection between the universe and humanity. Hagia Sophia then, designed as a Christian basilica, ineluctably demonstrates continuity with, at least, these three sacred shapes and symbols. In Late-Antiquity, the hemispherical dome began to be developed through the contributions to geometry by the Greeks and Romans.

The union of geometric shapes and sacred burial is important in the study of the dome is twofold. First, geometry constituted a connection to the sacred for the Greeks because they believed that mathematics was the eternal language of the universe. Second, the martyria of Early-Christian martyrs became places of worship.

Visions of Heaven: The Dome in European Architecture

The hemispherical dome, therefore, marries the numinous qualities of mathematics for the pagan Greeks with the numinous qualities of martyrdom for the Christians. The dome of Hagia Sophia represents the fulfillment of this union.

To further our understanding of sacred space, what is it about the dome in general and Hagia Sophia specifically that creates a sense of the holy? The use of geometric lines and curves leads the eyes upward while the massiveness of the structure overwhelms the senses and creates a spiritual effect. She writes here about the type of hemispherical dome found above Hagia Sophia: These are special and protected spaces that glow with a carefully orchestrated light.

As we look up into a dome, we feel elevated, uplifted; we have, in a sense, stepped out of the flow of secular time and—for a moment— into eternity. Domes present an image of geometric clarity, each is a structured as a boldly symmetrical design around a central oculus or focal point. The effect of this is at once spiritual and rational.

When an individual stands in the middle of an open field the sky, or heavens, above them surround on every side. If the ground is flat it bisects the sky evenly creating a hemispherical shape. This is the same shape of the dome. This design has no beginning or end; we perceive—with God-like clarity— everything at once.

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