In 2012 I visited Turkey. My first stop was in the capital Istanbul.
The sights, colours and atmosphere immediately lifted in me into an unfamiliar world but I felt quite blasé as I approached the Hagia Sophia for I was sure I knew what to expect. I had been seeing images of the building since I was in high school. Every Art History course I have ever taken had made reference to it. I knew that it was built in 537 AD and that its central dome is a remarkable feat of architectural engineering. I knew too that that it had been first a Christian cathedral then an Islamic mosque and was now a museum.
What I discovered when I stepped inside the building took me by surprise. Immediately I was immersed in a dusty world heavy with twenty centuries of religious activity. Ochre coloured domes covered with faded frescoes were punctuated by bright white holes of light pouring through scores of tiny arched windows. The electric lights twinkling on huge chandeliers suspended in the vastness were not bright enough to penetrate the shadowy, purple depths where painted angels flew across the walls. Within the domes and arches the frescoes consisted of complex circular motifs connected by radiating lines. Suspended on sinuous twisting cables large discs inscribed with Arabic calligraphy were protruding out in the open space of the large central dome.
The effect of the whole was organic. I felt I had entered some kind of repository – a brain or a nerve centre that pulsated with the weight of Middle Eastern religious history.
-this blog post was first published in a slightly different form on a previous blog.