Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hagia Sophia

Alright, kids, we're nearing the end of our European journey...only a few more posts left to go (covering Athens and Florence and Pisa) and then we'll be at the end of our trip together. Ok, so maybe we still have a ways to go, but we haven't finished with Istanbul, so strap in for....

Hagia Sophia! First the boring details:

Hagia Sophia is a former patriarchal basilica, later a mosque, now a museum in Istanbul. Famous in particular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture. It was the largest cathedral ever built in the world for nearly a thousand years, until the completion of the Seville Cathedral in 1520. The current building was originally constructed as a church between A.D. 532 and 537 on the orders of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, and was in fact the third Church of the Holy Wisdom to occupy the site (the previous two had both been destroyed by riots). It was the patriarchal church of the Patriarch of Constantinople and the religious focal point of the Eastern Orthodox Church for nearly 1000

In 1453, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks and the Sultan ordered the building to be converted into the Ayasofya Mosque. The bells, altar, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels were removed, and many of the mosaics were eventually plastered over. The Islamic features — such as the mihrab, the minbar, and the four minarets outside — were added over the course of its history under the Ottomans. It remained as a mosque until 1935, when it was converted into a museum by the Republic of Turkey.

Here's Hagia Sophia from the water, I took this picture in the morning before we had disembarked from the boat.

And here's a picture taken from the street, looking up at it.

Unfortunately, a huge restoration project was taking place inside the top of dome while we were there. So there's a huge scaffolding in all the pictures. On the bright side, however, it kind of gives you an idea of the scale of the inside, since the museum itself is MASSIVE. But again, like most of the huge religious buildings we have seen, it maintains a sense of intimacy. Here are some interior shots:

You'll notice the Christian and Muslim iconography and images. This is another prevailing theme of the buildings in Istanbul. Like the Chora Museum, Hagia Sophia exchanged hands throughout the centuries, and each group of people left their own mark on the architecture.

The second floor gallery, shown here below where the light is coming from, is horse-shoe shaped and wraps around three of the floor walls of the museum. It's accessed from a spiral tunnel (no, seriously, like a staircase except it's a tunnel), that is only about 6 feet tall. It looks like it's carved right out of rock, and the floor is uneven rocks like stepping stones. I was really glad I was wearing sneakers and not flip-flops. That thing was slippery enough as it was.

The second floor gallery houses beautiful Christian mosaics, none of them complete but still stunning. Here's a view at some of the most famous:

Here's a detail shot of the bible in Jesus' hands:

This gives you a better idea of how intricate all these mosaics are. And those gold-colored tiles, are actual gold.

There's only a few things to wrap up in Istanbul, and then we'll head over to Greece! Hopefully, I can get back to my one post a day plan (that didn't seem to last very long, did it?).

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