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Hagia Sophia, the Great Church
  Following the destruction of the St Sophia ( ) basilica by the Nika rioters in 532, Justinian I lay the foundations of a new church of unprecedented prestige. Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus were commissioned by Justinian to design and construct the new St Sophia. They were both mechanikoi - that is architects with experience in engineering. St Sophia is a five-aisled basilica covered by a huge dome. Aisles and galleries with columns of different sizes and proportions flank the nave, the upper order consciously made not to line up with the lower. The downward thrust of the dome is carried through pendentives, and met by the counterthrust of four massive piers. On the east-west axis, it is butressed by two semi-domes and four exedrae. Support was weaker on the north-south axis. Structural weaknesses became apparent while construction was still in progress, and in 558 the dome collapsed. The second dome was raised by seven meters and surrounded by cornices which served as levelling courses. Enormous windows pierced the side-walls flooding the edifice with light. The sixth-century description of the church by Paul Silentiarios mentions a chancel screen with twelve columns, its architrave adorned with images of Christ, the Virgin, the Apostles and angels; the parapet panels bore monograms of Justinian and Theodora. A raised pathway, the solea, projected from the sanctuary to the ambo. This was a circular or oval platform on eight posts, encircled by eight columns separated by parapet slabs and topped by an architrave. The apse was lined with the benches of the synthronon. The altar table was made of gold and precious stones, with a silver ciborium rising over it. The splendid furnishings included thousands of lights. Undercut impost capitals, vast expanses of non-figural gold mosaic and polychrome marble wall and floor revetments completed the decoration.

See also: Church architecture; Architectural sculpture