Monday, June 22, 2009

Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia  -- Eye of Holy Wisdom, nothing to do with any woman -- is one of the greatest buildings of all time, a monument during the Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman empires. It's orangy on the outside and boxy, marred by two kind of ugly boxes that are buttresses in the front. 

This is all because the builders didn't care about the outside, their goal with it was only to support a huge dome inside that is supported by no column and awe-inspiring in its height and dimensions. The Venetians sacked and mined the place so that to get a sense of the gold and silver and art that once were housed in this place where kings were coronated and queens married you really need to go to Italy (Horses atop St. Mark, etc, all from here.)

Even ugly the huge old building is amazing, especially not set in the midst of a beautiful urban park, across from the Blue Mosque with flowers and fountains and tourists everywhere. At night it is floodlighted and sea gulls float over and around the towers of this building and the Blue Mosque squawking. 

This is Mary Lee Settle in her  beautifully written book 'Turkish Reflections" talking about this place:

"The building covers more than four acres. It is wider than a football field is long, and yet there is not the overpowering sense of diminishment and human frailty that I find in the great dark spaces of the Gothic cathedrals. It is like walking into a field that contains the last sunset, under a dome that is a reflection of the sky, in the gold light of an early evening after a sunny day, a dome that rises to the height of a fifteen-story building and yet seems to shelter and not to intimidate....Once the colors were dazzling. Now in that vast and grand simplicity, there is the subtlety of age, a visual echo. Thousands of people from all over the world visit Aya Sofia every day, as they hve done since it was built. But now, instead of the voices of Goths and Latins, and rough Galatians, and traders from Cathay, instead of the shaggy skin trousers of Scythians, the togas of the Romans from the west, the white robes of the Arab tribes, the stiff gold-laden caftans of the Byzantines, the silk shifts of the traders from China, there are English voices, and German and French, and Japanese, tourists dressed in clothes that seem in modern times to be all alike, a world of jeans and T-shirts and the man-made textiles of traveling clothes in chemical colors..."

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