In Istanbul, Turkey, stands one of the architectural wonders of the world, glorious but silent.
It is the Hagia Sophia. This cathedral built in 537 boasts an enormous dome, representing the vault of heaven. Within, beams of light pour through many windows into a vast space. A beautiful sight—but this grand structure is not just for looks. The space was designed to reverberate with sound. For nearly a thousand years, Christians worshipped in the Hagia Sophia, like in other churches. But when they sang, the sound was truly unique.
Sadly, true Christian worship in the Hagia Sophia was silenced long ago. In 1453, the Ottoman Empire conquered the city of Constantinople. The Ottomans were Muslims. They changed the city name to Istanbul and converted the Orthodox Christian cathedral into a mosque. Now it is a museum, and music is banned.
So what did music in the Hagia Sophia actually sound like? With the help of a choir, advanced recording technology, and a balloon, we can hear for ourselves.
Two Stanford University researchers from seemingly unrelated fields came together to produce the forgotten sounds. Art historian Bissera Pentcheva met Jonathan Abel from the computer music department. In discussing the missing music, Abel realized he could recreate the acoustics of the Hagia Sophia digitally.
First, the pair made a digital impression of the cathedral’s acoustics . . . by popping a balloon. The POP! from a balloon varies depending on the room as sound waves hit and bounce off surfaces. Abel says in an NPR interview, “The space interacts with the sound, bringing back . . . information” about the room. Pentcheva went to the Hagia Sophia with a balloon and a few microphones. After museum hours, she popped the balloon. The explosion of sound echoed nearly 10 seconds in the cavernous cathedral.
Using the balloon recording, Abel constructed a digital filter that can make any recording sound like it is inside the Hagia Sophia. The Portland, Oregon, choir Capella Romana recorded an album with this filter, using music once sung in the cathedral. For the first time in hundreds of years, we can hear the glorious music meant to fill the Hagia Sophia.
“It’s actually something that is beyond humanity that the sound is trying to communicate,” says Pentcheva. She is right. Hagia Sophia means “holy wisdom.” The cathedral, with its great dimensions and rich acoustics, points to the wisdom of God. As awe-inspiring as it is, though, the sights and sounds of this man-made stone cathedral are only a pale representation of what is to come. Imagine the sounds of worship in the presence of the infinite living God!
Ooh, now I really want to hear that!
I am so glad people will now
I am so glad people will now be able to hear what the singing in the Hagia Sophia sounded like! I am so angry that singing isn't allowed in it anymore. After all, that is what it was originally created for! And Bella C., the album is on Amazon, with great reviews. I am probably going to get it at some point.
I play guitar and its kinda like the body of an acoustic guitar the shape and size of the hollow body gives it a different tone
I want to hear it too and Lena P I will have to look on amazon
i searched it up
ok, I searched it up and Its very eco I think it's in another language or something. not to be rude but it was kinda creepy.
This is very cool!
This is very cool!
I've been to the Hagia Sophia
I've been to the Hagia Sophia.
@ London S.
Yes, it is in a different language because the songs are what people sang in there during the Middle Ages.
This is so neat! It is sad
This is so neat! It is sad they can't actually sing in the real cathedral anymore, an that is was taken over by Muslims, but it is cool they can "record"it. In school, we actually talked about the Hagia Sophia a little! I think it would be cool to hear it and see it.
Same I would so want to see the cathedral too the pictures are cool
7th comment in the world!!!!!!!
Hope maybe I could listen to it on the internet if it was available.
I love the echo-y feeling of huge buildings like that. I can only imagine what it must have felt like to worship God in there.
That is so pretty I wish I could visit it would be so fun.
It's so sad that they can't sing there any more. Did you know that I am a Christian, you should be to.
i have been to turkey. it was
i have been to turkey. it was cool. i do not know if we went here but it sounds so cool!
The cathedral is very beautiful (like God's creation).
Yes, you are sure right! It is!
This is Mylee
This is so sad that Muslims took over. Now Christians can’t worship. I am glad that they recorded an album so we can hear. It echoed so much that the music was creepy.
Isn't it so beautiful? I LOVE the chandeliers!
@ Maribelle B.
i agree! ( BEAUTIFUL name! :) )
that would be awesome to sing
that would be awesome to sing in! the balloon pop really went on for 10 seconds? amazing!
Wow!! I really want to hear
Wow!! I really want to hear what it sounds like for a whole choir to sing inside Hagia Sophia!!