Astronomical and optical principles in the architecture of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople

Schibille, Nadine (2009) Astronomical and optical principles in the architecture of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Science in Context, 22 (1). pp. 27-46. ISSN 0269-8897

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Textual and material evidence suggests that early Byzantine architects, known as mechanikoi, were comprehensively educated in the mathematical sciences according to contemporary standards. This paper explores the significance of the astronomical and optical sciences for the working methods of the two mechanikoi of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, Anthemios of Tralles and Isidoros of Miletus. It argues that one major concern in the sixth-century architectural design of the Great Church was the visual effect of its sacred interior, particularly the luminosity within. Anthemios and Isidoros seem to have been thoroughly conversant with the ancient corpus of astronomical and optical writings and, as will be shown, implemented their theoretical knowledge in the design of Hagia Sophia. Specifically, the paper demonstrates that the orientation of the building’s longitudinal axis coincides with the sunrise on the winter solstice according to ancient computations, implying that the orientation was intentionally calculated in order to secure an advantageous natural illumination of the interior. Light and visual effects served to reinforce the symbolic significance of the sacred space that furthermore provides evidence for optical considerations with respect to late antique concepts of light and vision

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: School of History, Art History and Philosophy > Art History
Subjects: C Auxiliary Sciences of History
Depositing User: Nadine Schibille
Date Deposited: 30 Nov 2012 09:30
Last Modified: 30 Nov 2012 09:31
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