The Greek peoples had inhabited Asia Minor for 2000 years before they were finally conquered by the invading Muslim Turks*, harbingers of the Religion of Peace. In the mid 500's AD, these now-Christian Greeks, inheritors of Old Rome, built the largest and most astonishing church in the world in Constantinople, the last capital of the Empire's thousand years.
With the minarets added by the conquering Turks.
As it was, with forecourt and, to the right, the baptistry.
Hagia Sophia --Holy Wisdom-- is now a museum, having been reduced to service as a mosque from 1453 until the secularizing Ataturk created Turkey out of the post WWI ashes of the Ottoman Empire.
The current successor of Constantinople's patriarch, and his Greek church in Turkey, is holding on by his fingernails. Thus the eventual fate of all non-Muslims under the rule of the totalitarian Religion of Peace. (Ask those other Native Peoples under Islam, the Egyptian Copts, how things are working out for them under the Arab Mohammedans.)
|The enormous dome|
Here's screenshots from a rare barebones reconstruction --the original would have been full of mosaic images and precious metals and lamps under its enormous dome
...and people-- of what Justinian's masterpiece would have looked like in its prime**.
In the middle of the space was the Bema, the elaborate pulpit used for reading the scriptures, chanting the psalms, and preaching.
An Orthodox reader*** suggested that the ambon was probably turned the other way, with the longer walkway close to the altar. See the reconstruction of the church of St Polyeuctus, also in Constantinople:
Or St Eufemia in the same city.
In the apse at the east end was the enclosed Sanctuary, surrounded by a low wall and pillars, with curtains and doors, the altar inside under a ciborium or baldacchino, and in the curve of the apse, amphitheatre-like seating for the many priests, with the throne of the Patriarch at the center.
The icons on the wall grew more prominent over time until now the Eastern churches influenced by Constantinople have an iconostasis, a wall of images, separating the sanctuary from the rest of the church. Although the central bema, as an architectural piece, has disappeared, much of the Eastern liturgy still takes place in the center of the space as well as behind the icon screen.
Recently opened St Nicholas Orthodox Church in Amsterdam
Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Los Angeles with fully developed icon screen
There is a legend that when the early Russian Prince Vladimir wanted a new religion to unify his people and kingdom, he sent emissaries to the Latin Catholics, the Greek Orthodox and the Muslims. The Orthodox won out because the visitors had attended the liturgy in Hagia Sophia and declared that they thought they were in heaven itself.
*Would it not be politically correct to call the Greeks the "Native Turks"?
**To be fair, Hagia Sophia had seen hard times before. Aside from earthquakes and iconoclasts, the disastrous 1204 looting by the Latin Crusaders took a heavy toll, from which the city never really recovered.
***And if you're interested, check out his site, with a tour of old St Peter's in Rome at the end, as it would have looked prior to the Renaissance structure that replaced it.