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Hagia Sophia & St. Peter's Basilica

A Comparison of Iconic Religious Buildings

Daniel Jimenez

on 7 May 2013

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Transcript of Hagia Sophia & St. Peter's Basilica

Hagia Sophia & St. Peter's Basilica: Relation to Urban Context Formal Language of Divinity Structure Conclusion Both the Hagia Sophia and St. Peter's Basilica are unique architectural achievements for their own time and for any time in the history of the world. Even though one could--through great simplification--claim that they were designed for the same purpose (namely, to be a place of worship and serve as the iconic symbol of the Catholic Church), we have seen the many variations and similarities of the buildings through an in-depth look at three key aspects: their relation to the people around them (urban context), their relation to God (formal expressions of divinity) and their ability to handle the forces of nature (via structure). It is quite incredible to appreciate these aspects of the buildings, and to understand how architects today are largely dealing with the same set of issues that these buildings were dealing with many centuries ago. Through studying buildings such as these, the modern day architect can effectively link his work today with a long and proud history of architecture that reaches back to the dawn of humanity. A Comparison of Iconic Religious Buildings Introduction: Daniel Jimenez
ARCH/HART 645: History & Theory II: Pre 1890
Professors Fares El-Dahdah & Shirine Hamadeh
May 6, 2013
Final Project Without a doubt, Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia and Vatican City’s St. Peter’s Basilica are two of the most renowned and important religious buildings in the world. When the Hagia Sophia was inaugurated as a Christian basilica in 537 by the Holy Roman Emperor Justinian, it was hailed as the grandest building in all of Christendom and now is now considered the archetypal work of Byzantine architecture. After Constantinople (now Istanbul) was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, the Hagia Sophia was re-appropriated as an Islamic mosque, serving as typological inspiration for hundreds of subsequent mosques. Given the similarities of their aspirations—both were built to be the greatest building in the Christian tradition—and their differences in date of construction, location, and political context, a comparison of the Hagia Sophia and St. Peter’s Basilica can be very useful as a means of comparing the state of architecture, of Christianity, and of society itself in different epochs. With this in mind, the purpose of this essay is to compare and contrast these two great buildings through the lens of three criteria: relation to the urban context (how the building communicates to people), formal language of divinity (how the building communicates to God), and structure (how the building manages the forces of nature). Coincidentally or not, the first Christian Pope to consider building a newer, grander St. Peter’s Basilica was Pope Nicholas V, whose reign (1447-55) coincides with the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque. When the older version of St. Peter’s Basilica had fallen into disrepair, Pope Nicholas V--and later his successors--envisioned a new structure that would surpass all other religious buildings in the world (including the Hagia Sophia) and become the new emblem of the glory of the Catholic Church. This new version of St. Peter’s Basilica was built from 1506 to 1626 and is now considered the archetypal work of Renaissance architecture. Emperor Justinian I
482-565 CE Pope Nicholas V
1397-1455 CE Before we begin our analysis, we must first clarify the time frame with which we are concerned. Because both the Hagia Sophia and St. Peter's Basilica are very old buildings, their urban contexts has changed dramatically over time. For that reason, we will concern ourselves with how each of these buildings is operating in the current age (early 21st century), even if their designers could not have possibly accounted for all the change that has occurred since the date of original construction. With that in mind, let us first examine the manner in which the Hagia Sophia and St. Peter's Basilica stitch together the surrounding city fabric. When one sees the Hagia Sophia in its local city context, the abundance of greenery and the presence of other prominent buildings immediately becomes apparent. Close to the tip of the peninsula on which it is located, the Hagia Sophia is flanked to the southwest by the famous Blue Mosque and to the northeast by the equally famous Topkapi Palace. Special significance is given to Hagia Sophia by being in the middle (the middle position is also the most important in Christian triptych painting). However, even though the Hagia Sophia is such an important building and surrounded by other important buildings, one would not necessarily know this simply by looking at the local street layout. Two large streets terminate at the corner of the Hagia Sophia, but neither one of them is aligned to Hagia Sophia's main axis. We can claim, then, that Hagia Sophia, while a very important object in the city fabric, does not command the entire city layout to be ordered around it. Conversely, the streets immediately surrounding St. Peter's Basilica all look as though they are being oriented toward one very important element in the city fabric. One street in particular--Via Della Conciliazione--is aligned directly along the primary axis of St. Peter's, and nearly all of the attaching streets are perpendicular to it. The streets surrounding St. Peter's are very ordered, but rather than a conventional grid pattern without hierarchy, this grid pattern appears to conform to the shape of the Vatican's grounds, the supporting buildings of St. Peter's. Unlike with the Hagia Sophia, the city fabric near St. Peter's seems to accommodate or align itself with the architectural monument in its midst. This becomes especially noticeable when compared to the city fabric across the river, where no clearly dominant figure is organizing the fabric around it. St. Peter's is the dominant figure in its local landscape as far as the city fabric is concerned. Bibliography St. Peter's Basilica When examining the effect these buildings have on their city fabric, we inevitably conduct an analysis in plan view. While plan view is important, we need also consider the urban effect of each building from an elevation view, since this is the view in which most people will experience the buildings on a daily basis. When considering the huge size and grandeur of each building, it is obvious that both the Hagia Sophia and St. Peter's are extremely eye-catching from up close. Less obvious, however, is the effect each building has on the urban landscape when viewed from far away. Blue Mosque Hagia Sophia Topkapi Palace Image 1 Image 2 Image 3 Image 4 Image Credits:

1) Pat Dollard: http://patdollard.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/hagia.jpg
2) WikiCommons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tobu_World_Square_St_Peters_Basilica_2.jpg
3) Duhaime: http://www.duhaime.org/LawMuseum/LawArticle-295/533-Justinians-Institutes.aspx
4) Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Nicholas_V
5) Europe-Hotels: http://www.europe-hotels.gr/istanbul/index_map.htm
6) St. Peter's Basilica: http://saintpetersbasilica.org/vaticancity-map.htm
7) Bill Holsten Photography: http://www.billholsten.com/apps/photos/photo?photoid=167434367
8) D. Scott Frey: http://photo.fx4.net/regional/20121008Italy/con_rome/
9) Will to Go: http://www.willgoto.com/1/145329/liens.aspx
10) Deposit Photos: http://depositphotos.com/1429124/stock-photo-Cupped-hands.html
11) Nation States: http://forum.nationstates.net/viewtopic.php?f=23&t=94538
12) Mirror News: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/popes-easter-message-in-the-vatican-mankind-784512
13) Stan Rummel: http://faculty.txwes.edu/csmeller/human-experience/ExpData09/03Biee/BieePICs/1ByzPICs/HaggiaSophia537/HagSoph11Plan904.htm
14) Study Blue: http://www.studyblue.com/notes/note/n/final-building-names/deck/844985
15) Tesla Society: http://www.teslasociety.com/hagiasophia.htm
16) Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Peter's_Basilica
17) Petrescu Photography via Defiant Art: http://petrescuphotography.deviantart.com/art/Hagia-Sophia-346493967
18) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Michelangelo%27s_Pieta_5450_cropncleaned_edit.jpg
19) Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Peter's_Basilica
20) Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Peter's_Basilica
21) Stan Rummel: http://faculty.txwes.edu/csmeller/human-experience/ExpData09/03Biee/BieePICs/1ByzPICs/HaggiaSophia537/HagSoph11Plan904.htm
22) Study Blue: http://www.studyblue.com/notes/note/n/final-building-names/deck/844985
23) Study Blue: http://www.studyblue.com/notes/note/n/architecture-exam-iii/deck/4786495
24) Allposters: http://www.allposters.com/-sp/Rome-St-Peter-s-Basilica-Posters_i8061809_.htm
25) WikiCommons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hagia-Sophia-Laengsschnitt.jpg
26) St. Peter's Basilica: http://saintpetersbasilica.org/Plans/Architecture.htm Image 5 Image 6 Image 7 Image 8 Image 9 Image 10 Image 11 Image 12 As has previously been elaborated, the Hagia Sophia shares its tip of the Peninsula with both the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace. Each of them appears very grand along the Istanbul skyline, but the Hagia Sophia holds a spot of special prominence because it is situated at the peak of the hill on which all three are located. Views from nearby streets may favor one building over the other simply because of proximity, so let us consider the prominence of the building from a more neutral site: the sea. Because Istanbul is so frequently traversed via its waterways, a very typical way to experience the urban skyline is from the water. The Hagia Sophia is older, more famous, and more prominently elevated than any of its surrounding buildings, making it the most iconic landmark on the skyline. Anyone entering Istanbul's harbor will notice Hagia Sophia first because of its elevated position and elegant beauty. It is a source of pride for all the people of Istanbul, or Turkey, and of the world.

St. Peter's Basilica has less competition than the Hagia Sophia when competing for the views of onlookers in its surrounding context. While the surrounding Rome does contain many domed buildings that rise above the typical building line, none of them do what St. Peter's does, dwarfing its context with its massive dome. While the Hagia Sophia's prominence is more subtle, St. Peter's presence on the urban skyline can be felt from far away and attracts views from all over Rome. Yet another important aspect of these buildings' relation to the urban context is the manner in which they allow and encourage people to congregate around them. The Hagia Sophia sits within a lush garden area, allowing tourists and locals to enjoy a pleasant walk or picnic while viewing the majesty of the structure. The building itself, however, is mostly surrounded by roads, which makes it difficult for large amounts of people to congregate around the immediate vicinities of the Hagia Sophia. This does not create a problem because the Hagia Sophia--now operating as a secularized museum--is not generally programmed to accomodate huge crowds gathered around it.

By contrast, the gathering of huge crowds is central to St. Peter's urban effect. While there are garden areas with vegetation behind St. Peter's, these areas do not accomodate huge crowds of people. The heavily-populated areas around the Basilica are all paved to foster behavior of walking and looking rather than sitting and relaxing. Stretching out from the main basilica are two large collonades, like a hook with a straight part and an ovular part. These armatures have the dual effect of creating a courtyard of inclusion to make visitors keenly aware that they are on the premises of the Basilica, and also to keep out the rest of the urban environment. This courtyard space can accommodate huge groups of people, which it often does for ceremonial events like a Mass or the selection of a new Pope. When the Pope merely walks out onto his balcony, the whole courtyard is activated as a quasi-indoor space, like the nave of a massive church. Additionally, it is interesting to read the design decision of these collonades in light of the historical context of the Counter-Reformation in the Catholic Church. With these large colonnades acting like giant, scooping arms it is as if the Church is gathering its followers inward, trying to Image 13 Image 14 Image 15 Image 16 Image 17 Images 18-20 Now that we have explored the manner in which the Hagia Sophia and St. Peter's Basilica engage the urban context around them, let us now examine how they communicate with God through formal expressions of divinity. If God and heaven were to have a spatial location, it would be upward; therefore--it was believed--God looked down upon a church in plan view. Plan view, then, was a very important way to express the godly aspirations of a building meant as a place of worship. In both the Hagia Sophia and St. Peter's we see a cross-like plan, as has been common throughout Christian architectural practices. More interesting, however, are the differences in these two crosses: Hagia Sophia's plan is composed of a Greek cross with arms of equal length, whereas St. Peter's plan is a Latin cross with one arm longer than the other. This difference becomes especially interesting when looking at the history of Hagia Sophia, which essentially brought the Holy Roman Empire and the center of the Christian faith from Rome to Constantinople, from west to east. Each of these plans makes a statement about the status of the Church: the Hagia Sophia firmly planted it in the east, but St. Peter's brought it back to Rome and the west. The plan layout seems to be as much political as it is a religious symbol. Furthermore, statements from architect Michelangelo reveal that there is more to the cross design than a simple representation of Christ's death upon a cross. Paraphrasing Michelangelo's intentions, art historian Paola Boccardi Storoni claims about St. Peter's that "it was thus a centrally planned structure of gigantic dimensions whose architectonic components symbolically represented the universe covered by the celestial vault and intersected by Christ's Cross, having at its center the tomb of the Apostle Peter" (Storoni, 149). Perhaps, then, we can read into the plan a larger view of cosmic order in addition to a symbol of Christ's death. Two other aspects through which the architecture of these buildings expresses divinity are light and scale. Both buildings make use of a huge dome, which has the effect of making the inhabitants feel small and awed by a higher power. Not only that, but both majestic domes allow great amounts of light to enter the buildings through ingeniously placed windows. The domes, then, are doubly valuable to the creation of an aura of divinity. The domes, however, are not the only enormous aspects of these buildings. Just about every interior and exterior space is made at a larger-than-life scale, provoking a sense among viewers that they were either built for something larger than humans or built to make humans feel small. One could argue that both of these thoughts are true. Both the Hagia Sophia and St. Peter's Basilica were built to be tributes to God, and built on a scale that could be seen as worthy of God's greatness. The following passage illustrates the huge scale of the structures through some of the quantitative data on St. Peter's: "The entire surface of the basilica is over two hectacres, the length, compared to the other great basilicas of the world, along the floor of the median nave, is almost 200 meters; the height of the vault is 44 meters, and that of the dome is 133 meters; there are about 500 columns and 400 statues all made of marble, travertine, and bronze" (Storoni, 149). It is difficult for a single viewer to contemplate the huge scale of the building before him. Upon entering the space, then, the typical viewer is so astounded by the shear mass of building that a sense of awe in instilled inside of him, making him more ready to ponder the infinity of God and the smallness of his own life by comparison. This feeling is expressed by Procopius, who, writing shortly after the dedication of Hagia Sophia in 537 said, "When one enters into the Church to pray, he knows straight away that this work was not brought to accomplishment by human art and strength, but through the will of God; and his mind, raised up to God, walks the heavens, not thinking Him afar off, but rather, that it pleases Him to dwell with His elect. And this occurs not upon the first view merely, but the same inspiration comes upon him with all its force at each view thereafter" (Swift, 3). The final aspect here discussed about the architecture's expression of divinity is the exquisite ornamentation and details in both the Hagia Sophia and St. Peter's Basilica. Extreme care was taken in both instances to make sure that the grandness of God could be read throughout the structures, even in small details. However, the Hagia Sophia and St. Peter's find different ways of expressing these details because of their cultural traditions. When Hagia Sophia was a Christian basilica, it was filled with mosaics and statues of Christian figures. However, once it was converted into a mosque after 1453, most of the mosaics were covered with plaster because the Islamic ban on representational figural imagery. Since the Hagia Sophia was secularized and turned Bergere, Thea. Bergere, Richard. The Story of St. Peter's. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company. 1966. Print.

Storoni, Paola Boccardi. Unusual Guide to the History, the Secrets, the Monuments, and the Curiosities of St. Peter's Basilica. Rome: Newton & Compton. 2000. Print.

Swift, Emerson Howland. Hagia Sofia. New York: Columbia University Press. 1940. Print.

Rome.info: A Travel Guide to Rome. http://www.rome.info/vatican/st-peters-basilica/ Web.

Detorakis, Theocharis. Hagia Sophia: The Church of the Holy Wisdom of God. Athens: Ephesus Publishing. 2004. Print.
The final category of our analysis is structure, or how the Hagia Sophia and St. Peter's Basilica were able to handle the forces of nature (gravity, wind loads, etc.) and translate them into amazing design. Both of these structures are to be considered exceptional feats of engineering and construction in addition to architecture. Roughly a millennium older than St. Peter's Basilica, the Hagia Sophia took a practical approach to achieving its incredibly high dome with its use of materials and form. The following description of structural materials comes from the art historian Emerson Howland Swift: "Of purely structural materials used in Hagia Sophia the most important were cut stone and marble, baked brick, wrought iron, and lead. The stone, a sort of peperino, was employed at the points of greatest stress and heaviest pressure; for example, in the four great and the four lesser piers and their responds. Brick was used almost exclusively for walls, arches and vaults" (Swift, 50). It is astonishing to imagine how builders in the 6th century were able to achieve results like the Hagia Sophia, and that it has withstood the test of time all these centuries later. Crucial to this ability to stand under its own weight and the forces around it for so long is the use of form employed by the designers, as elaborated again by Swift: "Although the form of the arch used throughout the building is in most cases semi-circular, with the arches of the main arcades obviously designed along traditional lines, it seems very clear that many of the great structural curves were never intended to be spherical but were cast in purely functional form. The four great arches of the dome, for example, were laid out as approximately catenary curves rather than as circular segments" (Swift, 51). What is certain is that both the Hagia Sophia and St. Peter's are engineering marvels in any time, especially given the constraints with which both buildings were dealing. The architects of the Hagia Sophia, Arthemius and Isidore, had to devise a way of fitting a round dome on a square pillar: "they erected four great pillars built of ashlar blocks at the four corners of the square nave and bound the piers together with the use of arches. The distance between the piers is 31.80 meters. Between the arches four pendentives are formed that support the base of the vast dome, with a diameter of 33 meters and a height (today) of 13.80 meters" (Detorakis, 72). The shear size of St. Peter's is its most difficult engineering task, especially its massive dome: keep them from leaving via the Protestant Reformation. In fact, even the architect of the colonnades, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, confirms this interpretation: "The colonnades have often been described as the welcoming, outstretched arms of the church, ad Bernini himself referred to them in the same way, adding that they symbolically 'embrace Catholics to reinforce their belief, heretics to reunite them with the Church, and agnostics to enlighten them with the true faith'" (Bergere, 99). The "heretics" of whom Bernini speaks are the Protestants leaving the Catholic Church. The architect hopes that the power of architecture can make a small difference in bringing them back. into a museum after 1935, all of the major mosaics have been revealed, but much of the Hagia Sophia's detailing is more to be found in the exquisite patterns, construction details, and Islamic iconography. St. Peter's Basilica has never had such a conflict over representational figures, however, as can be seen through the huge number of elaborate statues that fill its walls. As mentioned above, St. Peter's contains over 400 statues, several by some of the best artists in the Western tradition. The most famous of these statues is the Michelangelo's Pieta statue of 1499, showing a recently-deceased Jesus lying in the arms of his mother, Mary. A viewer cannot help but be awed by St. Peter's on both the large scale and the small. Using Swift's description of functional curvature in the Hagia Sophia, we see a very important formal and structural difference between it and St. Peter's. In a cut-away sectional view, one can clearly see how the Hagia Sophia reads as progression of catenary arches, each progressively reaching inward and upward. By contrast, perhaps because of the greater reliance of columns in the tradition of classical Greek and Roman architecture, St. Peter's can be seen in the cut-away section to have a primarily flat roof, with the obvious exception being the massive dome. This seems to show a pragmatism toward engineering that we might have expected to be reversed: more structurally efficient catenary shapes coming out of the "Dark Ages" after the fall of Rome, and a more traditional, post-and-beam oriented structure in the golden age of Reason that was the Renaissance. "It’s the world’s largest Basilica of Christianity, nested into the heart of the Vatican city, with its 186 metres of length (218 if we consider the porch too), a height of 46 metres in the central aisle, a main dome 136 metre high and 42 metres large in diameter. The huge façade is 114 metres wide and 47 metres high. It has a surface of 22000 square metres and twenty thousand persons can pray in it" (Rome.info). Both buildings are especially amazing when considering the limits construction techniques available at the time. We may take of granted the ingenuity of the architects and engineers at these time when all construction was done by hand, without the help of the sophisticated machines we have today.
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