Newest Review: ... years ago, and it was still the case then. As busy as it was, it is still visually impressive as most of the work is above your head. In ... more
Mad About Mosaics
Haghia Sophia (Istanbul, Turkey)
Member Name: Essexgirl2006
Haghia Sophia (Istanbul, Turkey)
Advantages: Fanatatsic architecture and mosaics, beautiful building
Disadvantages: Parts maybe under renovation/restoration.
The Hagia Sophia is almost 1500 years old. It was commissioned by the Byzantine emperor Justinian and consecrated as a church in 537. Architecturally it is a very impressive building, moreso inside rather then out, and was the inspiration for many other buildings in the city including the blue Mosque. There were a lot of religious mosaics commissioned but when the church was converted to a mosque in 1453 by Sultan Mehmet, many of these were covered up (rather than destroyed, thankfully). The minarets were not added until the sixteenth century. In 1935, President Ataturk declared it a national museum.
The main part of the ground floor is what was the original nave. When I visited much of the left side was covered in scaffolding and I believe that has been there a number of years as a colleague visited a few years ago, and it was still the case then. As busy as it was, it is still visually impressive as most of the work is above your head. In each corner of the dome in the nave is a mosaic image of, what I think, are angel wings. Apparently these are seraphs, a six winged angel. When first done they would not have had faces, as this was not the done thing at the time, and one I was looking at (through my camera zoom) had a gold pattern on instead. The original mosaics would have been glass with gold leaf and as the building is quite well lit, certainly would have gleamed. As some of these were destroyed, they have been recreated as frescos. Later mosaics (post ninth century) had faces on them. Be warned when taking a photo of the dome above your head, that it is quite awkward to get a central shot of it, especially one in focus!
There are a number of windows in the building and the chandeliers hang low from the high ceiling keeping it very well lit. The chandeliers were likely from the Ottoman period, they would have used oil lamps originally.
Upstairs you can see further mosaics and frescos. I was quite impressed with the differing patterns on the marble (see picture) but on closer inspection, some of these designs have been painted on. One important mosaic, of which very little survives is to one side (South) of the upper galleries. It depicts the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist and Christ. There is a painting next to it, which shows how it should have looked.
You are allowed to take photos without flash throughout the Hagia Sophia. As the building is generally well lit this is not normally a problem. Many of these later mosaics show the an emperor with Christ. For example there is one with Emperor John Comnenus (apparently) and his wife Irene either side of the Virgin Mary with a baby Christ giving blessings in return for donations to the church. This is 13th century.
One of the more famous mosaics is the 11th century Christ Enthroned with Empress Zoe and Constantine IX. Empress Zoe was one of very few Byzantine women who ruled in their own right. The original picture depicted her first husband, upon his death, Zoe erased it and replaced it with her new husband. He also died and Zoe ruled in her own right. However as a weak ruler she wed again to Constantine and it is he that we can see today. He remains, no doubt, because he outlived her. This is quite a hard mosaic to get a good picture off as it is in a dark corner with a window behind it on one side meaning the light isn't very good.
Another significant one is the Virgin and Child in the apse at the very front of the church. Not an easy one to get a good angle for a photo, as it the closest point you can get to it, is by leaning around a wall by the aforementioned mosaic of Zoe (above) or by using a zoom lens from some distance away. The original mosaic and background comes from the 9th century and has been heavily restored.
One mosaic I was keen to see, as featured in my guide book, was that of Constantine the Great, the Virgin Mary with baby Christ and Emperor Justinian. I had trouble locating it in the Hagia Sophia but it is as you exit, and will be behind you (they have a mirror above you so that as you walk out you can spot it). The idea was probably that you see it as you go in, but it is exit only here now. It depicts King Constantine offering the baby the city of Constantinople (Istanbul's original name) and Emperor Justinian offering the Hagia Sophia and was dome in the 10th century.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit here. If you love this period of history and its architecture then this is a must see. Even if you don't, it is really interesting to see a building so old and (relatively) well maintained. Some members in our party thought it looked a bit shabby compared to the more modern Blue Mosque, but the latter was built about 1000 years later. They have a café on site and a gift shop, I didn't visit either. Neither are things that Istanbul is short of. Allow 90 minutes
Summary: Must see in Istanbul
- Fletcher's Freesias (Guernsey)
- Guernsey Pearl (Guernsey)
- Yorktown (Virginia)
- The Ridge (Shimla)
- Baelo Claudia (Spain)
- Battery Park (New York, USA)
- The Butcher's Bridge (Ljubljana, Slovenia)
- Temppeliaukio Church (Helsinki, Finland)
- Crazy Horse Memorial (South Dakota, USA)
- Caravanserai Sultanhani (Cappadocia, Turkey)