Read, Write, Run, Roam

Why did Constantinople Get the Works?

Christian images and arabic mosque proclamations in Hagia Sophia

That’s nobody’s business but the Turks…

Hagia Sophia is a perfect symbol of the transition from Constantinople to Istanbul. Plus, you can sing the Istanbul/Constantinople song to your muz until he starts to go insane. I wanted to go immediately.

Hagia Sophia has been a metaphorical ping pong for the region’s political/religious history. It was first built in 360 (no, I’m not missing a number) as an Orthodox cathedral in Constantinople. Between 1204 and 1261, it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral as part of the Fourth Crusade. It went back to an Orthodox cathedral until 1453, when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. Immediately after invasion, Hagia Sophia was converted into the Ayasofya Mosque. It remained a mosque until 1934, and was then converted into a museum.

As a museum, it’s a strange but beautful combination of Orthodox and Muslim religions. There’s a minbar, a minaret, and large signs in Arabic, but there are also mosiacs that depict Orthodox religious figures. Islam bans images that represent people, so it’s doubly surprising to see people and another religion represented amidst the arabic signs. The images are relatively true to history-a sultan allowed two men restoring the mosque to document mosiacs before covering them up again.

Covered and uncovered Seraphim faces in Hagia Sophia

The building is also quite beautiful and large, with huge doors, beautiful domes and details that will make a non-historian look up things like the Fourth Crusade. It’s still under renovation, which requires a delicate balance between uncovering Christian icons and preserving historic Islamic art. Either way, Hagia Sophia was certainly as impressive in Constantinople as it was in Istanbul.


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