Monday, August 5, 2013

Mystery Photo #21: Yes, indeed. Istanbul, Turkey.

     You guys are pretty good. I know some of you who got the right answers have not traveled extensively to this area of the world. Good job! Yes, indeed. The city is Istanbul, Turkey.
      Here is a map to orient you. One of you visualized the bodies of water around Istanbul quite well. Istanbul sits on an arm of water called the Bospourus.  The north end of the Bospourus originates in the Black Sea. To the city's immediate south is the Sea of Marmara. After crossing the Sea of Marmara in a boat, you would then cross through the Dardanelles and exit this narrow passage of water into the Mediterranean Sea. This map will help you visualize this watery city. Istanbul is located in the very northwest corner of Turkey where an arrow points to the Straits of Bosporous.

     The building in the first photo is called the Blue Mosque, named after the blue tile that lines its walls, and domes.

     The first photo in Mystery Photo #21 is the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, otherwise known as the Blue Mosque named after the Iznik blue tiles that line its interior walls. This Mosque was built from 1609 to 1616, under the reign of Sultan Ahmet  I. Its Kulleye (a group of buildings surrounding a mosque all of which are administered as one) contains the tomb of Sultan Ahmet I, a madrasah, and a hospice. The Mosque is active to this date, but it is also one of the main tourist attractions in the city of Istanbul along with the other building in my photos, the Hagia Sophia.

The façade of the Blue Mosque from its courtyard.
     The facade of the Blue Mosque is one of the last of the so called classical mosques built in the world. It is very similar to the Suleymaiye Mosque also in Istanbul. The adjoining courtyard is almost as large as the interior of the mosque, and is surrounded by a vaulted walkway on all sides, and has a place for ablutions on two sides. A central hexagonal domed fountain seems small in regards to the large court and to the mosque itself. A unique feature of the Blue Mosque is the presence of 6 minarets. When the Mosque was built however, it only had four minarets. Mosques generally obeyed an unwritten law and did not build more minarets than were present at the Sacred Mosque which surrounds the holy Kaaba in the city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. In 1629, renovations to the Sacred Mosque were begun, and shortly thereafter 3 minarets were added to the already existing 4 minarets. Soon afterwards, the Blue Mosque attained two more minarets for a total of six.

The vaulted courtyard and one of the minarets.

The central fountain in the courtyard.
The domes in the ceiling. You can see why it is called the Blue Mosque
Some of the interior arches and domes, looking at the balcony.
It is indeed magnificent to just look up.
Interior lighting is natural and then from strung light bulbs across the lower
 floor. At one time fancy shades covered these bulbs, including sea shells.
These have all been put into museums and artifact collections.

One of the large main pillars.
Islam forbids any images of Mohammad or other holy people. The name of
God, Mohamad and his teachings in the Quran can only be represented
by calligraphy.
A view of the Blue Mosque from the surrounding gardens. You can only see 4 of the minarets. The other two are to the right
behind the palm tree. You can see the classical symmetry of this style of mosque. Beautiful!
The apse of Hagia Sophia which here contains
the mihrab, that is the equivalent of an altar, set at an
angle in the apse so that when Moslems pray
facing it they are facing Mecca. Note the mosaic of
the Virgin Mary up in the half dome above.
     The second building viewed from our boat ride on the Bospouros was the Hagia Sophia. The name comes from the Greek which means "Holy Wisdom." The Church commemorates the Birth of the incarnation of the Logos in Christ, and represents the Wisdom of God. Sophia means wisdom in Greek. Hence the name Hagia Sophia.This magnificent domed church was constructed between 532 and 537 AD on the order of Byzantine Emperor Justinian, and was the third "Holy Wisdom" church to occupy this site, the previous two destroyed by rioters. It was designed by the Greek scientists, Isidore of Melitus, a physicist, and Anthemius of Trailes, a mathematician. Emperor Justinian had materials brought from all over the known world at that time. There were ancient columns from the Greek Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, porphyry stones from Egypt, large marble blocks from Thessaly, black stone from the Bospourus area, and yellow stone from Syria. Ten thousand people were employed in the building of this edifice.  It served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and the seat of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, except for a hiatus between 1204 and 1261 when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire. It was the largest cathedral in the world until 1520 when the Cathedral of Seville was opened.

      In 1453, Constantinople was conquered by Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II. As most conquests were in those days, this one was brutal. The Sultan gave permission for his forces to ransack and loot for 48 hours before he would take over what was left. Many old, disabled, women and children took refuge in the church during the beginning of the conquest. When the Ottomans besieged the church and finally broke down the door, they slaughtered, raped, and/or enslaved all who were found within. It is said that the priests continued absolving people and doing their duties until the Ottomans physically stopped them. After 2 days Mehmed II ordered the Byzantine Church converted to a mosque. The Church itself had fallen into disrepair. At that time the 15 meter silver iconostasis, and other religious relics, and artifacts were removed. But most destructive was the painting over and plastering over of the ancient mosaics of the Virgin  Mary, Jesus, and the Apostles and Christian saints.

     Hagia Sophia has stood for almost 1500 years. But it has not been an easy existence. It has withstood many different earthquakes and with several of the major ones, large portions of the church were damaged. The main problem was this building's massive central dome. Another problem was that when the church was built, too much mortar was used in relation to the number of bricks. AND the mortar was not allowed to dry and cure properly. So when the dome was placed on the walls, its weight made the walls buckle outward. Over the years, earthquakes often shook this heavy dome and caused portions of it to collapse. On one occasion the leaning walls would not allow the dome to be reconstructed. So the walls had to be built up with another layer to support them and make them perpendicular to handle the weight of the dome. On another occasion of repair, buttresses were added externally to support the walls. During the many repairs and reconstructions of the Islamic period, the mosaics were always replastered and repainted, a practice which in the end no doubt helped preserve them in the state we find them today.  Of course, four minarets were also added intermittently over the Islamic years.

The minbar inside Hagia Sophia. It is from halfway up
this tower that the imam delivers his words. Only
Muhammad can ascend to the top of the tower.

The sultan's loge, added later during the Islamic period.
The half dome that stands over the apse. Note the Christian mosaic in the
center, flanked on each side by large Islamic calligraphic medallions.

The central large dome. The windows circling the dome were added in later
 repairs. These reduced the weight of the dome and helped with stability.

The central marble floor space with hanging chandeliers
The central floor space looking toward the apse, as seen from the first
 balcony. Here you can see how off center the mihrab is in order to face
toward the Kaabe in Mecca.
Geometric mosaics on the internal arches and an
Islamic medallion with calligraphy, of Islamic
     The oldest mosaics mostly date from the late 9th century with some placed in the 10th century. They usually show the Virgin Mary, sometimes the Christ child, and sometimes the adult Christ. They  sometimes show the Apostles or Christian saints and often they show the Emperors who were reigning at the time that the mosaics were placed. It is interesting that as I said above, the Ottoman Turks initially covered the mosaics with plaster in order to make them disappear. But during later times of the Ottoman rule they must have realized the value and significance of these old mosaics. When doing repairs to the church, on several occasions the nature, colors and images of the mosaics were recorded before they were painted over again. They had to be covered because Islamic law prohibits any images in any mosque. It turns out that though the original intent was to destroy, the replastering and repainting actually helped preserve the mosaics underneath. It was the first President and creator of the State of Turkey, Mustafa Kemel Attaturk who converted the mosque to a museum in 1935. He removed the carpets covering the floor and revealed the underlying marble and had most of the mosaics uncovered and restored.

     Of course there is controversy. Do you remove some important Islamic calligraphic symbols lining the dome to get at a suspected immense mosaic of Christ as Master of the World that is recorded as being underneath. Still as the building now stands, both Christian images and Moslem calligraphy stand side by side demonstrating the mixed past of this great building. Both the Attaturk and succeeding generations of Turkish rulers and government need to be credited with preserving both aspects of this great building.

The Deesis mosaic showing Christ as ruler, in the center.
     The Deesis mosaic probably dates from 1261. It was commissioned to mark the end of 57 years of Roman Catholic use and the return of Hagia Sophia to the Orthodox faith. It is located in the upper galleries. Because of the softness of the features, the humane expressions and the tones of the mosaic it is often thought to be the finest in Hagia Sophia. It is dated to a time when Italian painters used this style, in the 13th and 14th century. In this mosaic the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist are imploring the intercession of Christ for humanity on Judgment Day. The bottom part of this mosaic is almost entirely missing. Many art historians regard this mosaic as the beginning of the Renaissance in Byzantine art.   

The Comnenus mosaic.
     The Comnenus mosaic located on the eastern wall of the southern gallery dates from 1122. In the middle stands the Virgin Mary wearing as is typical of Byzantine art, a dark blue gown. She holds the Christ child on her lap. He gives His blessing with His right hand while holding a scroll in His left hand. On Mary's right side stands emperor John II Comnenus. He holds a purse, symbol of an imperial donation to the church. Empress Irene stands on the left side of Mary, wearing ceremonial garb and offering a document.     

Hagia Sophia from the outside. Its exterior certainly shows the evidence of the
many repairs and reconstructions. It is after all 1000 years older than the Blue Mosque.

        And here is the photo that raised all these questions to begin with: From the Bospourus. Now can you tell me which one is which? Count the minarets.



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