Istanbul is a labyrinthian city.
Walking down a narrow, stone-paved street, one does not expect to turn a corner and see the immensity of the Hagia Sophia filling the sky. Standing in Sultanahmet Square, surrounded by the bustle of a thousand other pilgrims, women in miniskirts, headscarves, and burqas, I was struck by the wonder of a building fifteen hundred years old still so central to the interests of so many people.
The outside, with its hastily added flying buttresses and supporting arches, does little justice to the interior. Entering the Hagia Sophia is to experience awe, in the true sense of the word. The space is vast, dwarfing the bustling throng within to minutia, the somber marble walls stunningly elegant, the cherubim watching from the ceiling striking in the severity of their gaze.
The Hagia Sophia was originally constructed as a Christian church, and filled with ornate mosaics depicting Christian iconography and the life of Christ. Later converted to a mosque, the mosaics were plastered over and replaced with Islamic imagery. The slow process of removing the plaster and restoring the mosaics offers tantalizing images of the golden images that once covered the ceilings and walls of the church.
Amongst the soaring beauty and complex decoration of the Hagia Sophia, I was struck by the graffiti marking some of the marble banisters surrounding the upper balcony. In more languages than I could identify, people had left names, messages, and dates engraved into this ancient symbol of the intellect and faith of man. Amongst the more modern inscriptions were names left by ancient visitors – Milaim, in 1472, and Halveden, an apparent Viking visitor.
The desire of so many to immortalize themselves and their presence in this place is fascinating to me. I, like millions of others, have visited the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the ancient streets of Istanbul. But my name will not be remembered – it will not be placed under protective plastic as evidence of visitation to this immortal city.
To face and accept my physical and temporal insignificance in a place as beautiful
and enduring as the Hagia Sophia was an introspection perhaps worthy of such a
place. Even from an atheist.
--Kate Kelley, ROHS Class of 2012