Ugh. I know I'm probably totally late to this party, but I am SO into this song right now.
Ars longa, vita brevis. Have you ever heard that term? It’s a Latin saying by Hippocrates and it means, “Art is long, life is short.” It’s actually the Latin phrase of choice for the film school at Chapman and I happen to like it quite a bit. As we were doing the Rick Steves’ walk of the Hagia Sofia, it came to me quite clearly. It was exactly what Justinian had in mind when he commissioned it. Art is long, life is short. He wanted to be remembered for the great works he had done, and so he has. He wanted this church to represent his divine powers directly given to him from God. Emperor Justinian commissioned the Hagia Sofia as a Christian church nearly 1,500 years ago. It’s huge and grand, overwhelming and beautiful all at once.
It was completed in 537. 537, guys. Sit with that for a while - I had to. That is a LONG time ago. It’s quite a reminder to us all that civilization has been around a long time before any of us ever got here. And in the interim, it (civilization, that is) has been lost more than once. It’s a reminder that, although a civilization can be powerful and influentiual, golden, it can only be maintained by people who remain humble to it. Most civilizations fall because of excess, debts and war. Of getting too comfortable. Of living beyond their means. It happened to the Byzantines, the Greeks, the Romans and many others.
Referred to as the 8th wonder of the world by some, the Hagia Sofia is certainly worthy of such a title. During the iconoclast era (in which some Christians argued that imagery of Jesus and Biblical stories was unacceptable because it took away from the true divinity of such figures) the Byzantine mosaics depicting Jesus and other biblical figures were covered or destroyed. About a century later, people started using pictorial imagery again and the images were brought back. Politics, go figure.
I’ve seen a million pictures of classic Byzantine art and let’s face it, most of it looks like the same darn thing over and over again: Jesus and Mary in some form or another, all with a little circle over their heads acting as a halo. But guys, guys this stuff is incredible. In person, its nature is illuminated. The minute details of the incredibly intricate mosaics and the shimmer of the gold tiles is something that just can’t be captured on film. Truly beautiful. To cover over such art seems a travesty.
When the Ottomans took over Istanbul in 1453, it was clear to them that Hagia Sofia was grand and incredible, so it was immediately converted to a Mosque. Because of this, all of the religious images of people had to be removed in accordance with Muslim religious law and so this time, the images were plastered over. Ironically, this preserved them and saved them through any unrest over the following centuries. In 1934 it became a museum and now both Christian and Muslim images and features are revealed together, showing its fascinating, ancient and varied history.
I could try to find words for the grandeur of it, but there aren’t any, really. You’ll have to come yourself one day and see. But the cool thing to learn about it, is how a place can be powerful, holy and meaningful to us despite any religious beliefs we may have. It is a wonder and marvel and worth taking care of because of its historical value.
Alright all you Bachelor and Bachelorette fans, this post is dedicated to you. Why, oh why, you ask is this blog devoted entirely to me and my favorite reality show gem? Because I’m in Istanbul and if you recall, Ali Fedotowsky’s whirlwind search for romance landed her right in the exact same place. If watched as religiously as I did (let’s face it, Ali and her group of love-struck fellas were a notch classier than other seasons) you would remember when she had dinner with Frank in a dark, romantically lit, river thingy. Well, it turns out that that “river thingy” happened to be the Basilica Cistern, an ancient, underground cavern built to store water during Justinian’s time. It is incredible. Dimly lit, with some ground background music playing, the cistern is enormous, dark and moody. It’s the perfect place you’d want to film a really sexy scene. Apparently it was also featured in the James Bond film From Russia with Love, which gives me a very good reason to have a James Bond marathon when I get home (oh James, twist my arm why don’t you?). Plagued with water problems, Justinian built the expansive cistern to alleviate the problem. At some point, the cistern was forgotten about, but people still reaped its benefits by residual water leached from the ground around it. They simply thought it was a lucky place to get water. Yeah, luck or genius Byzantine infrastructure work, dark ages people. Now it is has been drained to a couple of feet and about twenty years ago was further drained and a walkway was built throughout a small portion of it. And then they started filming reality tv shows there. So really, the cistern is at the height of it fame right now. ;)
Baker. Traveler. Writer.