Photographer's Note


Just two centuries after Roman Emperor Constantine established Constantinople as the new capital of the Empire, and Christianity as the official state religion, the Byzantine Emperor, Justinian the Great, commissioned the building of the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya). Completed in just five years in AD 537, the colossal edifice, supporting a dome 31 meters (102 feet) in diameter and 56 meters (180 feet) in height, immediately became the defining building of Christendom.

Nine centuries later (1453) when the Ottomans conquered the city, Constantinople was renamed “Istanbul,” and the Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. Four minarets were added, and immense buttresses were built to support a building beginning to lean. (The huge dome would influence Ottoman architecture dramatically, with the multi-dome design of mosques of Bursa making way to the single-dome designs of mosques of the future in Istanbul.) Finally, just 75 years ago, the 1500 year-old building was transformed into a museum — no longer a church or a mosque — in a tacit statement of universal religious tolerance, and resistance to one religion or another being the sole steward of the building.

In a part of the world where a seismic fault runs through the Sea of Marmara, just south of the Istanbul, the building has been rocked by numberless earthquakes, and has survived them all (notwithstanding one earthquake just 20 years after the completion of the building that caused the dome to collapse and a new dome having to be built to replace it). The building even survived the catastrophic earthquake in 1999 when close to 18,000 people perished within a circle of 80 km radius. I was visiting Istanbul and staying in Taksim, when the last major eartquake struck, and I remember running out on a balcony (foolish thing to do), to see if any of the minarets of the Hagia Sophia or the Blue Mosque had toppled. They had not!

As one walks around the ancient building, seeing the undulating floors where floors and stairs are worn by centuries of worshipers and visitors, one is left in awe – first of the size, then of the astonishing age. Climbing a gently sloping spiral ramp one arrives at the second floor gallery. On one of the balustrades one can see Norse rune characters, Viking Grafitti, the product of a graffiti artist of 1200 years ago. Visible in this photograph are many of the columns leaning to and fro, distortions, deformations — demonstrated no more dramatically in the receding arches. At one time the arches would have been perfectly semi-circular in shape. The massive buttresses built by Ottoman enginers in the 15th and 16th centuries are credited with keeping the building upright into the present age.

Through the arches is visible one of the most beautiful and most famous mosaics in the world. Of the three figures in the full mosaic the figures of Christ and John the Baptist are visible, but the view of Virgin Mary is blocked by a column. As a footnote, the two eyes in the figure of Christ do not focus at the same point, giving the eerie impression of Christ watching the viewer, no matter where he happens to be standing.

Nikon D200, Nikkor 28-200 mm lens, camera steadied on a monopod. This is a sequel to the photograph Deformed with Age, where the distorted arches appear more prominently.

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Additional Photos by Bulent Atalay (batalay) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 6774 W: 470 N: 12149] (41261)
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