Saturday, September 15, 2007

hagia sophia

After Ephesus we sailed up the coast of Asia Minor, (through the Dardanelles and into the Bosphorus) to Istanbul, formerly Constantinople. Our tour guide for the day told us that Istanbul is simply a mispronunciation of Constantinople and not actually a name change. Before Constantine made the city the head of the Eastern Roman Empire it had been called Byzantium as every fan of Tom Lehrer knows.

The city has been integral to many empires because geographically it spans the narrow water divide between the continents of Europe and Asia. We stayed our whole day on the Europe side of the city and toured the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi palace, and ended the day in the Grand Bazaar.

The Hagia Sophia was built in the sixth century at the order of Emperor Justinian, replacing earlier churches on the spot built by Theodosius and Constantine (on the same spot as an earlier pagan temple). It served as the seat of the Constantinople Patriarch and after the schism was the center of the Orthodox half of Christianity. In the 15th century Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman empire and the church was converted to Muslim worship as a mosque.

Today it is neither Mosque nor church but a museum and it's filled with tourists not worshippers. The beautiful decorations (both Christian and Muslim) are visible, as well as the awe-inspiring (though precarious) architecture. The dome is too heavy for the supports and several pillars can be seen obviously leaning outward.

Hagia Sophia means Divine Wisdom, by the way. Although that's a traditional title for Jesus, I think the idea of a temple dedicated to wisdom itself is an excellent idea.

1 comment:

Andrys said...

RevRicky, I loved your alternative theories on the tunnels between the Ephesus library and the brothel.

You may enjoy the photo I took at
which is of what was a sort of guide for foot travelers looking for um, maybe, the library :-)

The title under it is what I actually wrote in 2004 from what a tourist had thought. We were travelling w/o a guide.

Re the Hagia Sophia, it really was awe-inspiring, and its history is pretty complex as you've noted. I did take some photos there too and my few galleries of Istanbul are at

But my interest in that is more a form of synchronicity. I was led here from a link to your commentary on Mark Singer's multi-threaded New Yorker article put together in such an engrossing way. It's very interesting to see that there was yet another hoax disclosed today and to see these discussed together.
I suppose watching the reviews stream in must have raised the spirits for someone who actually was dying from the cancer and who was obviously quite angry at the neglect from critics in the past.

If you or others want to read more about the hoax (though Singer's article is very thorough and clear), I have (apologies for another link) quite a bit at

Thanks for an interesting webblog!