This is one of my most viewed images, and has been consistently since I first posted it.
659 views by Nov 20 2009, at the time of submitting to “The 500 to 5000 viewings group”: http://www.redbubble.com/groups/500-viewings-group.
My first image to gain over 1000 views! April 2010
Now with 1557 views (April 22 2012)
Thanks to everyone who has looked!
Taken with Fuji S5500 point-and-shoot, no flash. Minimally lightened in Picasa
A potted history of Hagia Sophia (mainly from Wikipedia, but some opinions of my own):
The largest cathedral in the world for a thousand years, built between 532 and 537 AD by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. During the sack of Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204, many valuable items were taken from every Byzantine building in the city, including from Hagia Sophia. The cathedral was converted to a mosque in 1453 after the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople (modern day Istanbul). It remained as a mosque for nearly 500 years, until the Republic of Turkey converted it to a museum in 1935.
During its time as a mosque many of the Christian icons were plastered or painted over, in line with Islam’s ban on representational art. Islamic iconography was introduced, including the giant medallions, one of which can be seen in the photo. Minarets and other Islamic characteristics were added (including a mihrab – a niche in the wall indicating the direction of Mecca – and a minbar – a pulpit from which the imam delivered sermons). The Ayasofya mosque was the model for many other very famous mosques, including the Blue Mosque and the Süleymaniye Mosque, both landmarks of Istanbul.
The architecture and engineering of the dome are the subject of much commentary, as the innovative use of four pendentives (concave triangular sections of masonry) solved the problem of supporting a circular dome on a square base. The transfer of the dome’s weight to these pendentives, via a series of smaller interlocking half domes, contributes to the impression of the dome floating alone, unsupported. Its design and construction are often credited with changing architecture for ever.
Hagia (Aya) Sophia is famous for its dome, for its astonishing mosaics and icons, for its brilliant Islamic art , and for the mystical quality of the light which flows through the forty windows placed around the base. The dome is one of the most impressive sights in the world, truly one of the world’s Great Wonders.
Restoration issues have always revolved around the tensions between restoring the Christian iconography at the expense of the stunning Islamic art. While restorers have tried to maintain a balance between Christian and Islamic cultures in their work on Hagia Sophia, from an observer’s point of view the net result appears to be a stalled progress. While many mosaics have been restored, the first impression for a visitor is the overwhelming Islamic nature of the interior decoration, with the medallions, the hanging lanterns, and the imposing minbar, set at an angle from the main orientation of the building, because it is oriented towards Mecca.
Time well spent inside Hagia Sophia will eventually reveal its Christian origins, and the resulting experience, of two quite antithetical cultures and religions, is definitely an intense and challenging one. It is best to leave all preconceptions at the door, and simply absorb, explore, and live the experience that is Hagia Sophia.