"[Nelson's] account is never boring. The illustrations are eloquent. . . . The book is a delight to read, to handle and to browse through."
(Peter Clark Asian Studies
"Well-researched and gracefully written, this book demonstrates that Hagia Sophia has been repeatedly re-imagined both rhetorically and visually, as political and artistic climates have shifted. . . . This revealing examination of the cultural construction of meaning makes an important contribution to the study of religious architecture."
(Jeanne Halgren Kilde Religious Studies Review
"Thought-provoking, entertaining, informative, and very readable throughout."
(Robert Ousterhout Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians
“The architectural history of the Great Church is here taken for granted: instead the author addresses the structure as a modern monument, recounting the history of its reception. . . . This well illustrated volume . . . is a weighty and rewarding path of approach to one of Christianity’s greatest monuments.”
(Art & Christianity
"Nelson's remarkable achievement is a cultural and intellectual history more nearly than an architectural one. . . . His book doubles, brillinatly, as a historiographic essay illuminating a larger context for the growth and particular shape of the Byzantine specialization. . . . Nelson's insightful, intelligent, timely, and illuminating analysis will find satisfying readers among historians and cultural critics in many fields."
(Sally M. Promey Journal of Religion
"This fascinating investigation . . . amasses a wealth of documentation. . . . Intelligently and beautifully written, and well produced with 119 figures and ten color plates, the important monograph . . . should appeal to the scholar and the general reader alike."
(W. Eugene Kleinbauer Catholic Historical Review
"[Nelson's story] is a majestic one, the recovery of Byzantine civilization in the consciousness of the West. . . . With the Byzantine revival brought into focus . . . one can more readily see how a lost and reviled world served as a vital school for art and literature in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries."
(Joseph Connors New York Review of Books
From the Inside Flap
Hagia Sophia, the Church of Holy Wisdom, sits majestically atop the plateau that commands the straits separating Europe and Asia. Located near the acropolis of the ancient city of Byzantium, this unparalleled structure has enjoyed an extensive and colorful history, as it has successively been transformed into a cathedral, mosque, monument, and museum. In Hagia Sophia, 1850-1950, Robert S. Nelson explores its many lives.
Built from 532 to 537 as the Cathedral of Constantinople, Hagia Sophia was little studied and seldom recognized as a great monument of world art until the nineteenth century, and Nelson examines the causes and consequences of the building's newly elevated status during that time. He chronicles the grand dome's modern history through a vibrant cast of characters--emperors, sultans, critics, poets, archaeologists, architects, philanthropists, and religious congregations--some of whom spent years studying it, others never visiting the building. But as Nelson shows, they all had a hand in the recreation of Hagia Sophia as a modern architectural icon. By many means and for its own purposes, the West has conceptually transformed Hagia Sophia into the international symbol that it is today.
While other books have covered the architectural history of the structure, this is the first study to address its status as a modern monument. With his narrative of the building's rebirth, Nelson captures its importance for the diverse communities that shape and find meaning in Hagia Sophia. His book will resonate with cultural, architectural, and art historians as well as with those seeking to acquaint themselves with the modern life of an inspired and inspiring building.