Lighting the Aya Sophia

Church of Holy Wisdom, Constantinople
Interior view, 1852

Close-up of the polycandela in the Church of Holy Wisdom, Constantinople

In 1852, when Giovanni Fossati published a watercolor of the interior of the Church of Holy Wisdom in Constantinople, it had been converted to a magnificently decorated mosque. But we still get from this view a sense of just how many lamps would be needed to illuminate a building of this size in antiquity: the central lighting fixture alone contains more than a thousand glass lamps, clustered in threes around three eight-sided supporting frames.