Your Ararat AdventureVisiting Istanbul’s Aya Sofya
|The Aya Sofya seen at dusk.
||The Roman emperor Justinian had this church built on the site of Byzantium’s acropolis to help restore the Roman Empire’s greatness. Completed in 537, the multi-domed marvel remained the greatest church in Christendom until the conquest in 1453, when Mehmet the Conqueror turned it into a mosque. It became a museum in 1935, and today reigns as one of Old Istanbul’s most imposing structures. The name Aya Sofya means holy wisdom, and the stupendous structure is called Sancta Sophia in Latin, Hagia Sofia in Greek and the Church of the Divine Wisdom in English.|
|The Aya Sofya seen across the fountain pool in the center of Sultanahmet Park. The church was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest in 1453, and four minarets were added. The minaret in this photo is named Mehmet the Conqueror’s Minaret.|
|Unlike other large mosques in Old Istanbul, the Aya Sofya’s central dome is unsupported by columns in the nave. This was an engineering marvel of the time, and Aya Sofya still harbors a glorious open space today. Two semi domes support the main dome, and smaller semi domes support the main semi domes. Thus supported, the top of the main dome rises to an astonishing 185 feet above the floor. Predictably, the great structure has suffered from structural problems over the centuries, and has undergone repeated re buttressing. Restoration work continues today.|
|While walking inside Aya Sofya, you spend a lot of time looking up. Curves replace corners, and the curve-on-curve effect is stunning.|
|When Emperor Justinian walked through this Imperial door in
537 to view his great creation for the first time, he exclaimed, “Glory
to God that I have been judged worthy of such a work. Oh Solomon! I have
When Mehmet the Conqueror walked through this same door in 1453 to claim the Aya Sofya for Islam, he sprinkled earth on his head as a gesture of humility. The Aya Sofya remained a mosque until Ataturk proclaimed it a museum in 1935.
|On the ground floor, you can find marble panels like this one on the walls.|
|Great stonework is also underfoot.|
|After walking up a switchback, cobblestone ramp, you emerge on the gallery floor, where you have new views of the curve-on-curve creation.|
The Christ Mosaic
|The Bible proclaims in Exodus 20:4 that,
“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.”
Nevertheless, icons, mosaics and statues were very popular in the 14th century.
The iconoclasts (image-breakers) were ultimately ignored,
and the Aya Sofya also harbors 30 million gold mosaic tiles called
tesserae. Many marvelous mosaics such as this famous one of Christ were created
in the 14th century.
Also railing against idolatry, the Koran proclaims in Sura 16, “We sent a Messenger into every nation saying, Serve God and give up idols.” To their credit, the conquering Turks did not destroy the Mosaics, but just covered them with plaster. Today, after painstaking effort, many have been restored.
|The tiles are so tiny that, even in this close up, you can hardly see the individual tesserae.|
|The eyes of Christ
Zooming in even more, you can finally appreciate the amazing work that went into these mosaics. Note the special red stones in the corners of Christ’s eyes.
If you can keep your head when all about you
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