I intend to work with historical property in the future, and I loved seeing the beauty and grandeur that Istanbul’s architecture has. The Hagia Sophia is absolutely stunning, as was intended by its creators. No matter how many pictures you see of the Hagia Sophia, they cannot do justice to the actual experience of walking through the emperor’s Imperial Gate. In class we discussed how the creators wanted to give the feeling of the “Heavenly City” here on earth; they truly accomplished their goals with room to spare. The idea is that your eyes are supposed to immediately be drawn upward and your mind humbled by the size. It is true, as soon as you walk into the Hagia Sophia that your eyes go up, and they stay up.
In class we discussed some finer details of Byzantine architecture such as the use of penedentives, squinch vaults, barrel vaults, groin vaults, and the cross-in-square style of building. I was lucky enough to see each of these architectural styles firsthand. The columns that are in these Byzantine buildings are amazing. The columns give the illusion of airiness and lightness where there really is none. The ornate quality of the tops of the columns looks as though they could not support much weight giving the domes and other structures above a look of weightlessness.
Growing up in the Catholic Church, I was not exposed to many of the artistic and architectural details that the Byzantine churches have. For instance, the cathedral that I went to had mosaics lining the exonarthex of the church, but they were small and inconspicuous. These mosaics depicted the Stations of the Cross and were done by the famous artist Frank Duveneck. The mosaics in the Byzantine churches I have seen are very large and depict an enormous variety of scenes. Also the styles are completely different; the Roman Catholic Church uses the Italian Renaissance style as opposed to the Byzantine style where the characters do not seem to be realistic. We discussed in class this week about how the non-realistic form of Byzantine art is intentional. It may be that the Byzantines were trying to distinguish themselves from the Italians, but it is more likely that they wanted their art to show that earthly depictions are fictional and not meant to be perfect.
One preconceived notion about the Byzantines I had before coming turned out to be true: the idea that they were the continuance of the Romans for an additional thousand years after the fall of Rome. What I had never considered, though, is that the Byzantines themselves probably would have argued otherwise. After the events of 1204, when the Crusaders sacked the city, the Byzantine people were understandably not content to be called the same as their conquerors.
It is also hard to really grasp what the Byzantine capital was like by touring the modern city. The Hagia Sophia is covered with Islamic art alongside Christian art, and it is difficult to mentally cut one away from another. Some of the defensive walls and aqueducts are still in excellent condition, so they really portray the power and ability of the Byzantine Empire to construct. Istanbul is a great city with more history than the average American, like me, can fathom. If anyone ever asks “is it worth going?"--the answer is “yes, anytime.”