Hagia Sophia: Political and Religious Symbolism in Stones and Spolia

Hagia Sophia: Political and Religious Symbolism in Stones and Spolia

By Michele Stopera Freyhauf

Anthropology Journal, Vol.3 (2011)

Introduction: There has not been “an incident in Byzantine history with which the church of St. Sophia is not associated.” Hagia Sophia represents the very essence of the history of Turkey and the continuous transformation it has undergone throughout the ages and even today. Turkey, and especially Istanbul, the former Constantinople, is a country of great importance, transition, and rich cultural history. Hagia Sophia encapsulates all of these traits and stands as a visual testimony to the history of the region. Once a great symbol of Christianity, it demonstrated superiority over pagan religions and political alliance with its use of spolia. Through conquest, it became a representation of dominance and legitimization of Islam to the world. Upon the secularization of the country, Hagia Sophia became a Museum to both Christianity and Islam. As the country and museum try to interpret the balance of religion, both are frozen in time, unable to complete their ultimate goal of balancing these faiths. In Hagia Sophia, the scaffolding stands as a symbol of stalled progress in the restoration of Hagia Sophia. For Turkey, this is represented by the continued passage of laws that restrict the very religious freedom that the country purports to have.

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