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Byzantine Emperor Justinian commissioned the building of the Hagia Sophia not for propagandistic purposes, but to replace the church that preceded it and had been destroyed during a political revolt in 532. As emperors and kings were prone to do, Justinian spared no expense in the design and construction of the new church, which would be the center of Orthodox Christianity until the 1453 sacking of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks. Materials used in its construction were imported from as far away as Egypt. Unfortunately, earthquakes would continue to damage the structure over the years, but subsequent caretakers, mainly the Turks, who redesignated the Hagia Sophia an Islamic mosque, systematically rebuilt it, and it remains today the defining feature of Istanbul’s skyline.
To the extent that Justinian intended the Hagia Sophia to serve any kind of propagandistic function, it was in the same realm as every other leader throughout history who commissioned the construction of great architectural monuments to glorify country and ruler. Justinian succeeded in expanding the Byzantine Empire or, to be more precise, in reconquering territories lost to Germanic tribes under his predecessors, and it is likely the Hagia Sophia, the most important of the cathedrals in the empire, was seen as representative of his and his empire’s greatness, but that was, after all, business as usual, as it would be with dictators leading up to the present day.
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