|Islam, Christianity, Shiny-shiny - it's all there in the Hagia Sophia|
Every day of our week in Istanbul I ate honeycomb with salty cheese for breakfast, wandered backstreets and side streets and main streets, saw amazing Byzantine and Ottoman history, ate more great food, took long baths, drew and painted, read a fantastic book about Istanbul* and then went to bed early to do it again the next day. It was incredible.
On our second day Max and I found a nook in the Hagia Sophia Byzantine Church (then Aya Sophia Mosque) and spent some time drawing, talking, reading, writing, thinking. The current incarnation of this massive church was built in 537 by the emperor Justinian and upon its completion he stood inside, looking up (as the story goes) and said aloud
“Solomon, I Have Surpassed You”
“Solomon, I Have Surpassed You”
Max let me reenact the moment inconspicuously in the corner as I’d been imaging for weeks, but was still a little embarrassed. I read about this a few months ago and I haven’t been able to shake the image of Justinian, dressed in finery and jewels, reveling in his excess. The hubris, the insertion of himself into the grand biblical narrative, his historical envy and obsession with legacy! I’m not saying I think it’s awesome, but that it’s fascinating. I have wondered a lot about what motivated these people to create such incredible structures when the scope of those who would enjoy them was relatively small – they certainly wouldn’t have been able to show it off to their friends on facebook the next day. But perhaps their intended scope was much, much broader than I first imagined - back to Solomon and forward into eternity.
|This is an even better juxtaposition of Islam and Christianity|
I thought about excess a lot as we toured the Topkapi palace that afternoon. The palace was completed in 1465 for the Sultan and the juiciest part of the tour is the Sultan’s Harem. But, as I read, this wasn’t a Dionysian free for all, a bacchanal of epic proportions. The rules of the Harem were set and strictly enforced by the Queen Mother. People wrote this as if to make things less strange, but as I wrote in my journal that day it's not LESS weird if the harem is controlled by the 'Queen Mother'....it's definitely more...
|Ceiling in Topkapi Palace|
|Another Ceiling in Topkapi Palace|
One afternoon I toured the Chora Church (later the Kariye Mosque and currently a museum) which is perhaps the finest example of Byzantine mosaic work in the world. It was spectacular. I tackled it with an archeological guide book and spent the better part of an hour in one corner trying to understand how light worked on miniature golden tiles and what each scene represented. It was beautiful, intricate and excessive – even by today’s standards - and my brain melted a little bit trying to understand the time, energy and craftsmanship it must have taken in the early 5th century when it was built.
|One of several AMAZING mosaic ceilings in the Chora Church|
We felt like Kings on this trip. Not that we indulged, in fact, we didn’t. Not in the traditional sense anyway. We mostly ate elevated street food, bought discounted museum passes and walked everywhere. But to explore these amazing buildings, be so close to history, eat (many) simple but filling meals, be free from morning to night to wander and draw and read and make new friends – that is real decadence.
|Blue Mosque Courtyard|
|Yeni "New" Mosque|
*"My Name is Red" by Orhan Pamuk. I'm still not finished but it's really great