The Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) in The...
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Panoramic photo by Alexander Hadji EXPERT Taken 12:45, 06/09/2010 - Views loading...

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The Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) in Thessaloniki, Greece

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The Hagia Sophia (Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία; Holy Wisdom) in Thessaloniki, Greece, is one of the oldest churches in that city still standing today.
As far back as the 3rd century, there was a church in the location of the current Hagia Sophia. In the 8th century, the present structure was erected, based on the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey). In 1205, when the Fourth Crusade captured the city, the Hagia Sophia was converted into the cathedral of Thessaloniki, which it remained after the city was returned to the Byzantine Empire in 1246. After the capture of Thessaloniki by the Ottoman Sultan Murad II on 29 March 1430, the church was converted into a mosque.
Its ground plan is that of a domed Greek cross basilica. Together with the Gül and the Kalenderhane Mosques in Istanbul and the destroyed Church of the Dormition in Nicaea, it represents one of the main architectural examples of this type, typical of the Byzantine middle period.
In the Iconoclastic era the apse of the church was embellished with plain gold mosaics with only one great cross, similarly to the Hagia Irene in Constantinople and the Church of the Dormition in Nicaea. The cross was substituted with the image of the Theotokos in 787-797 after the victory of the Iconodules. The mosaic in the dome now represents the Ascension of Jesus Christ with the inscription from Acts 1:11 "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?". The dome is ringed by the figures of all Twelve Apostles, the Virgin Mary and two angels.
Much of the interior decoration was plastered over after the Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917, and the dome was restored in 1980.
Hagia Sophia is part of the site Palaeochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessaloniki on the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO

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Europe is generally agreed to be the birthplace of western culture, including such legendary innovations as the democratic nation-state, football and tomato sauce.

The word Europe comes from the Greek goddess Europa, who was kidnapped by Zeus and plunked down on the island of Crete. Europa gradually changed from referring to mainland Greece until it extended finally to include Norway and Russia.

Don't be confused that Europe is called a continent without looking like an island, the way the other continents do. It's okay. The Ural mountains have steadily been there to divide Europe from Asia for the last 250 million years. Russia technically inhabits "Eurasia".

Europe is presently uniting into one political and economic zone with a common currency called the Euro. The European Union originated in 1993 and is now composed of 27 member states. Its headquarters is in Brussels, Belgium.

Do not confuse the EU with the Council of Europe, which has 47 member states and dates to 1949. These two bodies share the same flag, national anthem, and mission of integrating Europe. The headquarters of the Council are located in Strasbourg, France, and it is most famous for its European Court of Human Rights.

In spite of these two bodies, there is still no single Constitution or set of laws applying to all the countries of Europe. Debate rages over the role of the EU in regards to national sovereignty. As of January 2009, the Lisbon Treaty is the closest thing to a European Constitution, yet it has not been approved by all the EU states. 

Text by Steve Smith.

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