Monuments of Unageing Intellect

Aya Sofya, 26 October 2012
Bruce Chatwin once made a striking comparison between St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome and the Aya Sofya in Istanbul; where the former, he said, was a church to men, the latter was a church to God. John Freely and Hilary Sumner-Boyd, in their Strolling Through Istanbul, make a similar point, if in slightly more architectural terms:
If the plan is to all intents and purposes that of a basilica, the originality consists in covering it with a dome and two semidomes. Glorious as is the dome, it is the introduction of the semidomes which constitutes the real triumph of genius. For in addition to lengthening the nave, they make it possible to appreciate from the very threshold the soaring, hovering height; they all the dome, in short, to play its true and full part in the total effect. Contrast the relative ineffectiveness of such a dome as that of St. Peter's, from which radiate barrel-vaults along the axes of the building. That dome, though higher and somewhat greater in diameter than Hagia Sophia's, is almost insignificant, for it can only be seen when one is very nearly underneath it, so that one must crane back one's neck to get a view of it at all.
Yet it's at least as interesting to consider the kinds of views that are afforded of the congregational space below –– and just wondering now if there are stories that tell us about the different protocols that governed its use. One is struck today by the sheer dimensions of the building; there are hints and traces of its previous functions, but they tend to dwindle in comparison.

Eh. Maybe the lines from Yeats are best:
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;


Popular Posts