Istanbul, Turkey
41° 1' N 28° 57' E
Jul 10, 2010 19:07
Distance 0km

Text written in: English

A visit to the Hagia Sophia & Basilica Cistern

 

I woke up this morning and looked out over the Sea of Marmara.  Sometimes I have to kick myself when I consider that I am looking out over the ancient city of Constantinople.  I believe it’s time for another history lesson!  

"On 1 May 305, wearied by his twenty years in office, and determined to implement his method for the imperial succession, Diocletian abdicated. He compelled his co-regent Maximian to do the same. Constantius and Galerius then became the new Augusti, and two new Caesars were selected, Maximinus in the east and Severus in the west." 

http://www.roman-emperors.org/dioclet.htm  

In theory the division of the Roman Empire into East & West with two principal rulers (Augusti) with two subordinates (Caesars) was supposed to ease the problems of succession.  It did nothing of the sort.  

In 306 Constantius, having successfully led an expeditionary force against the Caledonians of Northern Britain, died in the Imperial Palace at York.  The battle hardened troops immediately proclaimed his son, Constantine, as Augusti.  While Galerius acknowledged him as Caesar and promoted Severus to Augusti, in line with succession planning, there was little he could do to check the power of Constantine, who had the backing of the 'British' Army!  Another complication saw Maxentius (son of Maximian) assume power in Rome.  A Conference of Carnuntum in 308 failed to resolve differences and a protracted civil war commenced.  

"In AD 312 Constantine invaded Italy. Maxentius is believed to have had up to four times as many troops, though they were inexperienced and undisciplined.  Brushing aside the opposition in battles at Augusta Taurinorum (Turin) and Verona, Constantine marched on Rome.

Constantine later claimed to have had a vision on the way to Rome, during the night before battle. In this dream he supposedly saw the 'Chi-Ro', the symbol of Christ, shining above the sun. Seeing this as a divine sign, it is said that Constantine had his soldiers paint the symbol on their shields. Following this Constantine went on to defeat the numerically stronger army of Maxentius at the Battle at the Milvian Bridge (Oct AD 312).  Constantine's opponent Maxentius, together with thousands of his soldiers, drowned as the bridge of boats his force was retreating over collapsed.  

Constantine saw this victory as directly related to the vision he had had the night before.
Henceforth Constantine saw himself as an 'emperor of the Christian people'. If this made him a Christian is the subject of some debate. But Constantine, who only had himself baptized on his deathbed, is generally understood as the first Christian emperor of the Roman world."

http://www.roman-empire.net/decline/constantine-index.html  

Over time the Emperor Constantine (the Great) eliminated his competition and consolidated his power across the Empire.  Once this was completed in 324, he moved his capital to Byzantium, renaming it Constantinopolis (City of Constantine).  It remained a capital city (Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman) until 1923 when the Turkish Government moved the capital to Ankara.  Constantinople became Istanbul in 1930.  

Constantine the Great also took an interest in the development of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.  In 325 he presided over the first Ecumenical Council of the Christian Church.  This was held in Nicaea and produced a creed (with later additions at the Council of Constantinople 381), which is still in use today.  

"I believe in One God,
the Father Almighty,
Maker of Heaven and Earth,
and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the Son of God,
the Only-Begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages;
Light of Light;
True God of True God;
begotten, not made;
being of one substance with the Father,
by Whom all things were made;
Who for us men and for our salvation
came down from Heaven,
and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate,
and suffered, and was buried.
And the third day He arose again,
according to the Scriptures,
and ascended into Heaven,
and sits at the right hand of the Father;
and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead;
Whose Kingdom shall have no end.

And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life,
Who proceeds from the Father;
Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified;
Who spoke by the prophets.
And in One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.
I look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come."
 

Notice I sidestep the 'filioque' controversy, which centres around the relationship between the Spirit and the other two Persons in the Trinity, the Father and the Son.  The Roman Catholic Church added, "...who proceeds from the Father and the Son..." which hastened the Great Schism between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches in 1054.  Protestants also tend to side with the Latin Church.  Personally I will stick with the agreed text back in 381. 

“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me."

John 15:26 

To be fair you can find texts on both sides of this argument and plenty of scholars (Cappadocian Fathers, St Augustine etc).   

First order of business today - a visit to the Church of the Holy Wisdom, one of the most famous buildings in all of Christendom.  But first of all get the family up and prepare breakfast.  It was nice to sit round a kitchen table and eat as a family, even though we only had toast and eggs to offer. 

We set out at 0930hrs and walked the 400 yards to the Hippodrome area, en route to the Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia). 

"A Hippodrome (Greek: ἱππόδρομος) was a Greek stadium for horse racing and chariot racing. The name is derived from the Greek words "hippos (ἵππος; "horse") and "dromos" (δρόμος; "race" or "course")." 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippodrome  

The Hippodrome in Istanbul dates from the period of the Emperor Septimius Severus, around 203 AD.  It was renovated and enlarged by Constantine around 324 AD.  

"Throughout the Byzantine period, the Hippodrome was the centre of the city's social life. Huge amounts were bet on chariot races, and initially four teams took part in these races, each one financially sponsored and supported by a different political party (Deme) within the Roman/Byzantine Senate: The Blues (Venetii), the Greens (Prasinoi), the Reds (Rousioi) and the Whites (Leukoi). The Reds (Rousioi) and the Whites (Leukoi) gradually weakened and were absorbed by the other two major factions (the Blues and Greens). 

A total of up to eight chariots (two chariots per team), powered by four horses each, competed on the racing track of the Hippodrome. These races were not simple sporting events, but also provided some of the rare occasions in which the Emperor and the common citizens could come together in a single venue."

  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippodrome_of_Constantinople 

The Nika Riots of 532 AD, during which the 2nd Hagia Sophia was destroyed, allowed for the construction of the impressive church/mosque complex that exists today.  These riots started as a disturbance at the Hippodrome.  

"On January 13th, 532 AD, a tense and angry populace arrived at the Hippodrome for the races. The Hippodrome was next to the palace complex and thus Justinian could watch from the safety of his box in the palace and preside over the races. The crowd from the start had been hurling insults at Justinian. By the end of the day, at race 22, the partisan chants had changed from "Blue" or "Green" to a unified "Nika" (a Greek exhortation meaning to "win", "conquer", or "achieve victory"), and the crowds broke out and began to assault the palace. For the next five days the palace was under virtual siege.

 Some of the senators saw this as an opportunity to overthrow Justinian, as they were opposed to his new taxes and his lack of support for the nobility. The rioters, now armed and probably controlled by their allies in the Senate, also demanded that Justinian dismiss the prefect John the Cappadocian, who was responsible for tax collecting, and the quaestor Tribonian, who was responsible for rewriting the legal code. They then declared a new emperor, Hypatius, who was a nephew of Emperor Anastasius I.

 Justinian considered fleeing, but his wife Theodora convinced him to stay in the city. Justinian had his generals Belisarius and Mundus suppress the revolt on January 18, which they did with much bloodshed by trapping the rebels in the Hippodrome. About thirty thousand rioters were reportedly killed. Justinian also had Hypatius executed and exiled the senators who had supported the riot.


" http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Medieval/LX/NikaRiots.html  

The historic Hippodrome lies under the surface of the current area.  The Obelisk of Theodosius (or what remains of it) stood in the middle of the race track.  Although it appears remarkably well preserved, the bottom section is missing, having possibly been damaged during transportation from Egypt.  

"The obelisk was first set up by Pharaoh Tutmoses III (1479–1425 BC) to the south of the seventh pylon of the great temple of Karnak. The Roman emperor Constantius II (337-361 AD) had it and another obelisk transported along the river Nile to Alexandria to commemorate his ventennalia or 20 years on the throne in 357. The other obelisk was erected on the spina of the Circus Maximus in Rome in the autumn of that year, and is today known as the Lateran obelisk, whilst the obelisk that would become the obelisk of Theodosius remained in Alexandria until 390, when Theodosius I (378-392 AD) had it transported to Constantinople and put up on the spina of the Hippodrome..." 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obelisk_of_Theodosius  

We pressed on and passed Kaiser Wilhelm’s Fountain and the Tomb of Sultan Ahmet I.  We crossed the street and faced the Hagia Sophia or Aya Sofya as it is called here.  Just outside I discovered a Post Office kiosk and post box.  Time to stock up on stamps and post a few cards before dodging the hawkers and potential guides.  As luck would have it children are free, which offset the 20 Turkish Lira entrance fee for adults.  Once inside I considered the entrance fee money well spent, just as I once did visiting Petra and the Taj Mahal.  

"Probably Istanbul's most famous landmark, the Hagia Sophia (also spelled Ayasofya) was completed by the emperor Justinian I in the year 537 AD. Built in only six years, the structure was designed by the architects Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus. On May 7, 558, the dome of the church collapsed due to a December 557 earthquake, and though a new dome was quickly rebuilt, historical records tell us that it was not identical to the original." 

http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/Middle_East/Turkey/Istanbul_Ili/Istanbul-1837624/Things_To_Do-Istanbul-Hagia_Sophia_Ayasofya-BR-10.html 

"On the day of Agia Sophia's consecration, Justinian gave away great gifts of food to the poor in celebration. He then proceeded to the church with the Patriarch and, entering the royal gates, he cried, "Glory to God, who has deemed me worthy of fulfilling such a work". Νενίκηκά σε Σολομών "O Solomon, I have surpassed thee!"  In truth, no temple of antiquity had ever come close to the originality and splendor of the magnificent Hagia Sophia.  It had been made possible only by Justinian's faith."

http://www.troparia.com/ayiasophia.htm 

The Emperor Justinian and his consort, the Empress Theodora, were probably the most famous couple in Byzantine history.  Flavius Petrus Sabbatius Iustinianus, or as he is known in English, Justinian I or Justinian the Great, inherited the imperial title in 527 following the death of his uncle, Justin I.  His wife, Theodora, came from very humble stock and she started her career allegedly as an actress.  They met in 522 and married the following year.  When Justinian was crowned he named her as co-regent. She was social, witty, supremely self-confident, and never lost her head in a crisis, which was most important during the Nika riots in 532. He adored her, and she was his most important adviser. 

"One of the most important figures of Late Antiquity, Justinian's rule constitutes a distinct epoch in the history of the Eastern Roman Empire. The impact of his administration extended far beyond the boundaries of his time and empire. Justinian's reign is marked by the ambitious but ultimately failed renovatio imperii, or "restoration of the empire". This ambition was expressed in the partial recovery of the territories of the Western Roman Empire, including the city of Rome itself. A still more resonant aspect of his legacy was the uniform rewriting of Roman law, the Corpus Juris Civilis, which is still the basis of civil law in many modern states. His reign also marked a blossoming of Byzantine culture, and his building program yielded such masterpieces as the church of Hagia Sophia, which was to be the center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity for many centuries."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justinian_I 

The Hagia Sophia of today is the 3rd church to be built on this location.  The second was burnt to the ground during the Nika riots of January 532.  Justinian restored order in a ruthless fashion, which is alleged to have cost the lives of 30,000 rioters.  He then turned his mind to rebuilding the church.  Justinian took a keen interest in matters spiritual and the Hagia Sophia is a true masterpiece of the Byzantine era.  It is probably only with us today on account of its restoration and conversion to a mosque in 1453 by the Ottoman Turks.  Since the building became a museum in 1935, plasterwork has been removed and some of the Christian mosaics restored.  In secular Turkey this one building encapsulates 1500 years of religious observance. 

My final thoughts concerning Justinian were ones of pity.  He ruthlessly strove, at great expense, to restore the eastern and western halves of the old Roman Empire.  He achieved a fair measure of success in this enterprise, only to see it halted by the arrival of Bubonic Plague in 541 - 542.  This plague is believed to have killed a quarter of the population of the Empire and severely weakened its military capacity.  After the reign of Justinian, Rome could not be held.  Over time the Empire could not hold back the advance of Islam. 

The Hagia Sophia is one of several important landmarks in the heart of the old city.  I left in a positive mood, having been honoured to have had the opportunity to visit one of the greatest churches in Christendom.  We had not far to walk to our next destination, the Basilica Cistern, which is just across the street.   

"The cistern was first constructed by Constantine and enlarged to its present form by Justinian after the Nika Revolt using 336 marble columns recycled from the Hellenistic ruins in and around the Bosphorus. The water supply, routed from reservoirs around the Black Sea and transported via the Aqueduct of Valens, served as a backup for periods of drought or siege. It was left largely untouched by the Ottomans, who preferred running, not stagnant, water, and eventually used the source to water the Topkapi Gardens. The cistern was later left to collect silt and mud until it was cleaned by the Municipality and opened to the public in 1987." 

http://www.sebnem-anthony-july2006.com/Istanbul_site_info.html



You read conflicting accounts on the internet regarding the age of the Basilica Cistern.  Forget the history for a moment and simply take in the subterranean architecture and the cool interior.  Try to imagine what it must have been like (no lighting or boardwalks) when rediscovered by a European (Mr P Gyllius) during the 16th century.  

"The cistern remained unknown to the West until mid-XVI. century. Then the cistern was discovered by P. Gyllius, a Dutch traveller, who visited Istanbul in 1544-1550...In one of his researches, when - while he was walking around Ayasofya - P. Gyllius was told that the homefolk of the houses in the vicinity drew water from the large round well-like holes found in their basements with the buckets they dropped down and that they even caught fish. He managed to go down into the cistern armed with a torch through the stone steps in the garden of a wooden house, which was surrounded with walls, which was found upon a large underground cistern. Under very difficult conditions, P. Gyllius managed to sail around in the cistern and measured it and witnessed the columns." 

http://www.yerebatan.com/english/itarihce.html  

Perhaps he had the feeling he had rediscovered Petra or Machu Picchu?  Today of course, as well as visiting the Cistern you can rest a while and sip a coffee or a beer.  I bet this facility did not exist in 532 AD!  

But enough of tourism for today.  Both Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cistern were packed.  Time to head back to our apartment for lunch and a rest.  We did call at our travel agent first to pick up our rail tickets for next week.  Our plans are not perfect but at least we have the bones of a trip for next week, the key destination being the ruins of Ani on the Armenian border. 

In the afternoon the girls were keen to engage in a little retail therapy so we headed for the Grand Bazaar, with its antiques, silver, gold, leather goods, carpets and fabric.  Indeed there were many other items on offer.  This huge covered market had many narrow passages as well as the main thoroughfares; there was much to see.  Even by walking quickly you could not avoid the trader banter: 

“Hello, where are you from?” “Come inside, I have just your size.” “I will give you a special price.” 

And so it went on.  The girls bargained over small trinkets and certainly enjoyed themselves in the process.  Personally I enjoyed the fringes of the market, the eating establishments occupied by workers and traders.  I feel I caught a glimpse of Turkish society. 

We walked back to our apartment in the pouring rain, stopping only at various stalls and corner shops to pick up items for dinner.  We are trying not to eat out every night and to make reasonable use of our self-catering facilities.  Sometimes it is nice to have a night in!  Time to catch up on journals, post cards and other such administration.

 

 

Photos / videos of "A visit to the Hagia Sophia & Basilica Cistern":

Rough stone obelisk, Hippodrome area, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Spiral column with Obelisk of Theodosius in the background - Hippodrome area, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Ruth, Erin & Ailsa Burnett - Obelisk of Theodosius in the background - Hippodrome area, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Ailsa Burnett bargaining near the Obelisk of Theodosius  Hippodrome area, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Kaiser Wilhelm's fountain, Hippodrome area, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Ruth, Erin & Ailsa Burnett outside the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Duncan Burnett outside the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Ailsa Burnett outside the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Erin Burnett outside the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. The Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Ruth, Erin & Ailsa Burnett outside the Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Ruth, Erin & Ailsa Burnett outside the Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Erin & Ailsa Burnett outside the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Ruth, Erin & Ailsa Burnett inside the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. The interior of the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. The interior of the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. The interior of the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Erin Burnett inside the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. The interior of the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. The interior of the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Ruth, Erin & Ailsa Burnett inside the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Erin & Ailsa Burnett inside the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. The interior of the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Hagia Sophia - looking out of a window towards the Blue Mosque. The interior of the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. The interior of the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. The interior of the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. The interior of the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Duncan Burnett inside the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Erin & Ailsa Burnett inside the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. The interior of the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Ailsa Burnett inside the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Inside the Basilica Cistern, Istanbul, Turkey. Outside the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Inside the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Inside the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Inside the Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom), Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Basilica Cistern, Istanbul. Ruth, Erin & Ailsa Burnett at the Basilica Cistern, Istanbul. Basilica Cistern, Istanbul.