WHIRLIGIGS UNDER HEAVEN

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.

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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. 

JustinTheo.Klimt TV - WHIRLIGIGS UNDER HEAVEN
with apologies to Gustav Klimt

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.

Ayasofya from West - WHIRLIGIGS UNDER HEAVEN

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.

Balustrade Cross Graffiti 72 ©2004 Trici Venola
Balustrade Cross Graffiti 72 ©2004 Trici Venola

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.

Icon - WHIRLIGIGS UNDER HEAVENWorlds Collide in Hagia Sophia: Next: PEELING TROMPE L’OEIL

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