Hagia Sophia as a Museum. Previous chapter link. Beginning link.
The “rise from the ashes” of the Turkish Republic ended a sequence of events that began in 1908 with the “Young Turks”, to continue click read more
a revolutionary "party", successfully rebelling against the thirty-two year reign of Sultan Abdul-Hamid II which resulted in his abrogation.
The recluse Sultan, was brought to the new parliament (the site of the abandoned Byzantine senate house) to read a speech which proclaimed a new government and the blessing of the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Hamid II was described as a 'hunched, scraggy bearded, hook-nosed Shylock, in a gray military overcoat with facings and heavy epaulettes. ” He was brought forth like a “treacherous beast of prey, that after hiding in a cave for years is finally trapped, and brought forth blinking and reluctant, into the blessed light.” The deposed Sultan was succeeded by his brother Mohammed V.
The chapter goes on to detail ongoing battles fought for the control of Istanbul (former Constantinople) and that region: in 1912, the Ottoman war against the oppressed people of the Balkans and in 1914 World War I. When, in 1918, the Allied forces occupied the city, the oppressed Greek population of Istanbul taunted the Turks with “They are putting the bells into Aya Sofya.” The Muslim faithful swarmed to the mosque only to discover guards still in place.
In these turbulent years a young Turkish commander, Mustafa Kemal, emerged victorious. He was Macedonian, like Alexander the Great,and born in the cosmopolitan port city of Salonika. ”Thus he grew up in a world where East mingled with West, Moslem with Christian and Jew, and Turk with Greek, Slav,
Vlavh and Albanian. He understood the political climate of the hour and after a revolutionary struggle of “four weary years”,
he was able to secure a peace treaty with the West and achieve Turkish reoccupation of Istanbul. On July 24, 1923, the Treaty
of Lausanne granted Turkey frontiers and other concessions from the Allies. Kemal became known as Atatürk,
“Father of the Turks”.
Within a short time he disestablished Islam. The caliph followed the sultan into exile. “The call to prayer that issued from the great mosque of Hagia Sophia omitted all mention of the caliphate, ‘O God, grant thy protecting aid to our Republican government and the Moslem nation. Make eternal the glory of the Moslems and of Turkey, above all other flags and make them live by the spiritual prophet.’”
The Turkish Republic was established as a secular state where spiritual and temporal power are separated. All forms of government and social institutions were brought into compliance. “Hagia Sophia, which had long been a symbol of conflict between [East and West], was now to symbolize their union. Atatürk ordered that a notice be posted on the door of Hagia Sophia (an active mosque at that time) instructing that it was closed for repairs and there would be no further admittance until completion. At that very moment, Hagia Sophia, which had once been a Church of the utmost importance and then a mosque under the Ottomans, now became a Byzantine-Ottoman museum (and it still remains as a museum as of 2014).
In 1932, the Byzantine Institute of America began the historical preservation of the museum. Thomas Whittemore, the founder of the Institute, a renowned scholar and archaeologist, artist and craftsman, led a team of experts whose main task it was to “undo the work of the Fossati brothers by revealing the figural mosaics they had concealed between 1847 and 1849 with paint and plaster. The greatest loss to mosaic work occurred during the earthquake of 1894 and not through intentional destruction, thus the restorers were able to “reveal works of the mosaicists art much as they had looked a thousand years earlier”.
The book offers a glimpse of Whittemore mosaic “finds” and his reflections on some. For example, on a Enthroned Queen mosaic panel in the vestibule, he writes, “viewed from below, the picture manifests itself to the beholder like a golden firmament. Beneath the Mother’s clear, calm gaze the radiant image of the child shines ethereal in the brightness of the throne and the footstool of jeweled silver.” The author Kinross goes on to explain that Light was a crucial element in understanding the mosaic- “not simply light shed upon it from the south door, but light emanating from the mosaic itself, so that the throne on which the Virgin sits seems illuminated from within.”
Whittemore documented over fifty different mosaic tints and it’s interesting to note that mother-of -pearl mosaics were not used anywhere probably because they were considered too common and therefore “vulgar.” After Whittemore died his reports were completed by others and published in 1964.
In 1967, Pope Paul VI paid a visit to the museum Hagia Sophia on his ecumenical trip (a short post here). One reported incident that had the city abuzz was his request to pray under a large mosaic of the Virgin and Child. “Without waiting for a reply, he knelt and murmured a Hail Mary." In turn a group of student Moslems decided to perform a ritual cleansing of the building and “afterward they sent a picture of Mohammed the Conqueror to the Vatican, with the words of the Islamic prophecy inscribed beneath it: ’Constantinople will one day be conquered.’” Religious conflicts continue to this day.
Kinross sums up this chapter by describing the future vision for Hagia Sophia as a monument to the past and architectural and artistic jewel to be studied and admired indefinitely. He laments the loss of polish in the grimy marble treasures; having been dulled for centuries “they no longer live as nature designed them.” He mourns that “man has allowed them to go dead, and only in one place can they be seen as the poets once described them. On the western wall of the nave.” His hope is that restorationists will continue to reclaim the surfaces and art, bringing them back to their original brilliance.
Lord Kinross ends with a quote by W.B. Yates on the glory of Constantinople:
Miracle, bird or golden handiwork
More miracle than bird or handiwork.
Chapter Study of Hagia Sophia by Lord Kinross completed by CMJentz 2/24/2014
A compilation of articles on “Hagia Sophia in Literature” follows the closing chapter:
Buildings, Men Rejoice in What They See, by Procopius c.A.D. 560
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, on the Hagia Sophia, by Edward Gicon, 1781
The Conquest of Constantinople, Changing Perspectives by Robert of Clari, c. 1204
The Travels, a visit to Hagia Sophia description by Ibn- Battuta 1325-54
Travels and Adventures, a visit to the city, Pero Tafur, c.1455
Narrative of Travels, a visit to the city, Evliya Chelebi c. 1635
A Voyage into the Levant, visit to the city, Joseph Tournnefort, 1700
The City of the Sultan, ladies in the Mosque, Julie Pardoe, 1837
My Russian and Turkish Journals, on the solemnity of the service, by Lady Hariot Dufferin, 1881
Constantinople, Novelists as Tourists, by Theophile Gautier, 1853
The innocents Abroad, on the Hagia Sophia, by Mark Twain, 1869
Mediterranean Seas, on observing the Hagia Sophia, by Arnold Bennett, 1928
The Uses of the Past, a survey of Hagia Sophia, by Herbert J. Muller, 1952
A Guide to the Mosques of Istanbul, by Lord Kinross, 1971
Chronology, Bibliography, Index
Image 1 While repairing the interior of Hagia Sophia in the mid nineteenth century, the Fossati brothers uncovered many incomparable mosaics- but in deference to Moslem custom they concealed them again with whitewash and stencils. By 1931, when the Turkish Republic granted Thomas Whittemore permission to conserve the mosaics, many had suffered almost irreparable damage. Fortunately, the symbolic mosaic in the vestibule, of Justinian and Constantine proffering gifts to the virgin had survived intact.
Image 2 Mustafa Kemel , the leader of the nationalist movement that deposed the last of the ottoman sultans, became the first president of the new Turkish Republic in 1923.
Image 3 The uncovering of the mosaic of Saint john Chrysostom and Saint Ignatius Theophorus in the north tympanum of Hagia Sophia.
Image 4 The progressive uncovering of the mosaic (pictured in Image 1) from beneath Islamic designs.
Image 5 The Archangel Gabriel from the bema archof the apse, is one of the crowning achievements of Byzantine art. to Christians, Gabriel is the angel of the Annunciation; to Moslems, he is the angel of truth who revealed the Koran to the Prophet.
Notes, Art, Photography CMJENTZ ©2013-2018
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