Hagia Sophia: Just check out that inlay work above the pillars around the upper alcoves! I always loved whirligigs and so did the Emperor Justinian. St Catherine was one of his patron saints, and we find Catherine Wheels everywhere in Hagia Sophia, fabulous inlaid stonwork predating that in the Taj Mahal by 1000 years.
Justinian and his Empress, Theodora, began building Hagia Sophia in 532, to replace the previous temple which had been burned in the Nika Rebellion. To create what they hoped would be a glory for heaven, they commissioned Isadore of Miletus, a physicist, and Anthemius of Tralles, an architect and mathematician.
Justinian and Theodora’s love was legendary. Like Hagia Sophia, it has outshined all the contemporary criticism, all their probable and all too human flaws. For fifteen hundred years, now, their great temple has stood, a miracle of sensual symmetry, of space and light and beauty. It’s what happens when great architecture and mathematics combine with great faith and great love.
So, whatever stone this whirligig façade is made of, it was made in the 6th Century. It’s recently been cleaned, and what a revelation. It used to look like shallow gray bas-relief. Here’s a drawing from 2004, see? I couldn’t make out the design and had to make do with curlicues.
The roughened surface of the marble balustrades is actually fifteen centuries of people carving their names. Over time the names fade down into the marble, leaving a scratched, pitted texture I love.
Worlds Collide in Hagia Sophia: Next: PEELING TROMPE L’OEIL