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Photographer's Note

Just two centuries after Roman Emperor Constantine established Constantinople as the new capital of the Empire, and Christianity as the official state religion, the Byzantine Emperor, Justinian the Great, commissioned the building of the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya). Completed in just five years in AD 537, the colossal edifice — supporting a dome 31 meters (102 feet) in diameter and 56 meters (180 feet) in height — immediately became the defining building of Christendom. (Note: one TE member disagrees with me about Constantine giving Christianity the status of “official state religion,” suggesting instead that Christians were given freedom to practice their religion. On this point, honest people can disagree.)

Anthemios of Tralles (modern Aydin), primarily an artist and scientist, and Isidoros of Miletus, accomplished architect, engineer and scholar brought their considerable skills together in producing the Hagia Sophia, a wonder for the ages. They borrowed ideas from the best of Imperial Roman, late antiquity, and early Christian concepts in creating the Hagia Sophia. All the traditional churches of the Byzantine, Slavic, Orthodox worlds, built over the subsequent 1400 years descend in some form or other from the Hagia Sophia. And it even influenced Ottoman architects, the greatest of them, Mimar Sinan (1489-1588), paying his homage to the edifice by emulating it in his Suleymaniye (in Istanbul) and Selimiye (in Edirne).

Nine centuries after the Hagia Sophia was erected, when the Ottomans conquered the city, Constantinople was renamed “Istanbul,” and the Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. Four minarets were added, and immense buttresses were built to support a building beginning to lean. Finally, just 75 years ago, the 1500 year-old building was transformed into museum — no longer a church or a mosque — in a tacit statement of universal religious tolerance, and resistance to one religion or another being the sole steward of the building.

In a part of the world where a seismic fault runs through the Sea of Marmara, just south of the Istanbul, the building has been rocked by numberless earthquakes, and has survived them all (notwithstanding one earthquake just 20 years of the completion of the building that caused the dome to collapse and a new dome having to be built to replace it). The building even survived the catastrophic earthquake in 1999 when close to 18,000 people perished within a circle of 80 km radius. I was visiting Istanbul and staying in Taksim, when the last major eartquake struck, and I remember running out on a balcony (foolish thing to do), to see if any of the minarets of the Hagia Sophia or the Blue Mosque had toppled. They had not!

The vantage point for the photo was the observation deck of Galata Tower, itself 1500 years old, and perched on a hilltop across the Golden Horn (Haliç). I took the photo with a Nikon D70 in May, 2006, while visiting the city to give lectures at the University of Istanbul and Bogaziçi University. I used a 70-210 Nikkor lens, extended to full length and steadied on the balustrades. Subsequently, I cropped the image to the aspect ratio of the golden ratio, or 1:1.618, and created a simple mat around it. I resisted removing the white speck, a sailboat, although it detracts from the subject itself, it does point out that the backdrop is the open sea. The signature at the bottom is in the ‘DaVinci font’ forward (there is also a ‘DaVinci font backward, the way Leonardo personally wrote). The font was used in my book, ‘Math and the Mona Lisa.’

This image will be placed in a new group theme, DOMES. I Welcome others to contribute.

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Additional Photos by Bulent Atalay (batalay) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 5990 W: 457 N: 10373] (34723)
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