A Spectacle of Great Beauty: The Changing Faces of Hagia Sophia
Villano, Victoria M.
Master of Arts, University of Connecticut (2012)
Visible from across the Sea of Marmara, Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, with its giant buttresses and soaring minarets, embodies a cultural collision of epic proportions. With a rich history intertwining legacies of medieval Christianity, the Ottoman Empire, a modern secular Turkey, and a resurgent Islam, it is no wonder that within the last ten years, Hagia Sophia has resurfaced as a subject of debate. Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and Secularists are vying for ownership of this religious and political symbol, against the backdrop of Turkey’s changing politics and influence over the Middle East region.
With Istanbul’s strategic location on the Bosphorus Peninsula, between the Balkans and Anatolia, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, the city has been associated with major political, religious, and artistic events for more than two thousand years. From the founding of the city, to the crusades, to the conquering of Constantinople, and to the rise and fall of the Ottoman Empire; Turkey has always been a major player in Middle Eastern politics. Today, Turkey is a vibrant, competitive democracy of seventy-nine million people, with a thriving economy. Turkey’s influence in the Middle East has grown as the country has moved away from its secular ties to an Islamic-leaning governmental authority. This seemingly seismic shift in government and religion is nothing new in Istanbul. The city has passed through Christian, Muslim, and secular hands and Hagia Sophia has been an important landmark in each of these regimes.