Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is one of the strangest buildings I have ever been in. Before I entered I was sure I knew what to expect for I’d been hearing about the building in art history classes since I was in Year 8. I knew that it was built in 537 AD and that its central dome is a remarkable feat of architectural engineering. I knew too that that it had been first a Christian cathedral then an Islamic mosque and was now a museum.
Stepping inside the building I was immediately immersed in a dusty world heavy with twenty centuries of religious activity. Ochre coloured domes covered with faded frescos were punctuated by bright while holes of light pouring through scores of tiny arched windows. The electric lights twinkling on huge chandeliers suspended in the vastness were not bright enough to penetrate the shadowy, purple depths where frescoed angels flew across the walls. Suspended on sinuous twisting cables large discs inscribed with Arabic calligraphy protruded out in the open space of the large central dome. The circular shape was echoed in the designs that decorated the ceilings of the domes.
I felt like I had entered some kind of repository – a brain or a nerve centre that pulsated with the weight of middle eastern religious history.
It was only when I wrote this post that I did some more reading about the building and discovered it was named after a saint named Sophia and that word Sophia means wisdom – how fitting that it reminded me of a brain.