This week’s Photo of the Week isn’t very pretty, considering that it comes from the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia was built as a Christian cathedral in 537, under the Byzantine Empire when Istanbul was Constantinople. In the 15th Century, the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and changed its name to Istanbul. They were completely blown away by the Hagia Sophia because of its commanding architecture and outstanding artistic features. Its dome is gigantic and the stonework and layout was like nothing before it. Despite the fact that it was built for a different religion, they kept it around because they couldn’t imagine the city without it. However, since the Ottomans were Muslims, they converted it into a mosque.
This conversion required a few things, including:
- Covering up the mosaics. The Hagia Sophia had mosaics that represented Jesus, Mary, disciples, and other popular figures in Christian art. Although these people appear in the Qur’an also, Islam forbids any art that represents humans. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, even artistic representations of the prophet Mohammed are forbidden.
- The addition of a mihrab. When Muslims pray, they must face Mecca, a city in Saudia Arabia that hosts the holiest mosque in Islam. All other mosques have a decorative area against or carved into a wall in the mosque, which faces Mecca. This is called a mihrab. Needless to say, the cathedral lacked a mihrab.
- The addition of minarets. Minarets are the pointy towers around mosques. They act as an elevated place from which imams (Islamic priests) can broadcast the call to prayer. The Hagia Sophia now has some of the tallest minarets in the world.
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Republic of Turkey decided the Hagia Sophia should no longer be a cathedral or a mosque, but rather a museum. This is the way travelers from around the world see it nowadays.
I encourage you to read more about the Hagia Sophia. Here’s a nice, succinct history of it.
Anyway, while it was still under the Byzantine Empire, the Vikings sacked Constantinople. In the process, some punk Viking named Halvdan scratched his name into the marble of the Hagia Sophia. Normally I’d find something like this shameful, but it fits in nicely with the dynamic history of the Hagia Sophia, which has taken on a little character from every major group of people that’s stumbled upon it.