3 Buildings with Amazing Stories

These buildings have storeys and stories

By Google Arts & Culture

The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, October 16, 1834 (1834-1835) by Joseph Mallord William Turner, English, 1775 - 1851Philadelphia Museum of Art

Some buildings are storied in more ways than one. The following three structures are famous for their striking architecture, but did you know their fascinating pasts? Virtually visit them in present day, then learn the back story.

Hagia Sophia

Built by Roman Emperor Justinian I in 537 as the patriarchal cathedral of Constantinople, the Hagia Sophia was once the largest Christian church in the Eastern Roman Empire. It became a mosque when the city fell to the Ottoman Empire in 1453 and, in 1935, when the new secular Turkish government took over, was turned into a museum. 

Hagia Sophia from Place l'Hippodrome (1857) by James RobertsonNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC

For many years, the Hagia Sophia contained the world’s largest indoor space. It was also among the first to employ a fully pendentive dome. In fact, the building was so unique and so impressive, it’s said that it changed the history of architecture for good.  

Church Fathers Order (left part) (11 th c.) by UnknownSt. Sophia of Kyiv

Inside, the Hagia Sophia is adorned with intricate mosaics. It’s also home to a number of interesting artefacts and architectural features, some of which, like the ‘Nice Door’, date back to the 2nd century BCE, around 700 years before the building was even constructed.

Hagia Sophia year 537 III (2014/2014) by Ola KolehmainenBorusan Contemporary

Although the Hagia Sophia is almost 1500 years old, its story is far from over. In 2020, the Turkish president annulled the 1935 decision to make the Hagia Sophia a museum, effectively turning it back into a mosque. 

Westminster Abbey

Founded in 960 and consecrated in 1065, Westminster Abbey is one of the oldest, and most important, religious buildings in the UK. Built in a mainly Gothic style, the abbey was a Catholic Benedictine monastic church until the dissolution of the  monasteries in the 16th century.

The Queen with the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace after the Coronation, 2 June 1953 by The TimesRoyal Collection Trust, UK

Since the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066, every English monarch has been crowned in the Abbey. It has also hosted 16 royal weddings – the most recent being William and Kate in 2011 - in the millennium since its consecration. 

Top Euro (Bri-E) London Churches Westminster Abbey - InteriorLIFE Photo Collection

As well as coronations and marriages, Westminster Abbey hosts a large number of funerals. Over the years, around 3,300 famous Brits have been buried in the abbey itself, making it one of the country’s most exclusive final abodes. 

Sydney Opera House

One of the most iconic buildings in the world, the Sydney Opera House is an emblem of Australia. Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, construction started on the world famous venue in 1957. 

Sydney Opera House during the Vivid Sydney festival* (1) (2011) by Kazuhisa TogoSydney Opera House

However, the build didn’t all go according to plan and Utzon left the project in the late 60s. Originally due to open in 1963, the opera house was eventually completed in 1973, ten years late and 1,357% over budget. 

Bennelong Restaurant, exterior, with Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background (2014) by Brett Stevens and Fink GroupSydney Opera House

Although over budget and overdue, the staggering design and spectacular location of opera house made it an instant success. Its multiple performance spaces host around 1,500 events a year, with over 1.5 million people visiting the building annually. In 2007, the Sydney Opera House was officially designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Sydney Opera House (2014) by Centre for Digital Documentation and Visualisation as part of The Scottish TenSydney Opera House

Find out more about the Sydney Opera House here.

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