One of the highlights of our trip was the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. This beautiful cathedral’s third incarnation (built in 537) signaled to the world that Constantinople was the center of Eastern Christianity. It was the largest cathedral in the world for 1000 years.
Some of the beautiful Byzantine mosaics were destroyed by Latin soldiers during the Fourth Crusade, and others were covered with stucco by Muslims. Luckily, this helped preserve them. The face of one of the angels has been uncovered, but the other three are still covered with stucco and iron.
The mosaic depicting Empress Zoe presenting Constantinople to Jesus gives rise to many legends about why the faces were painted over. My favorite is that the original depicted her first husband, which was painted over with the face of her second husband, and then her third. She was supposedly vain, so I assume she also had her face repainted to be more flattering. Whichever is the case, it’s a lovely work of art.
In 1453, the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople and converted the Hagia Sophia to a mosque, adding minarets and the huge Islamic calligraphy discs, and replacing the altar with a mihrab pointing to Mecca.
This mix of Christian and Islam elements was really interesting to us because we saw the opposite juxtaposition in southern Spain: the Catholic church constructed chapels in the middle of huge Moorish mosques.
We admired the exterior from different views and in different light. It never failed to impress us.