Sketching the Hagia Sophia

Oh, to have seen the Hagia Sophia in it's Byzantine splendor! The underside of dome would have been illuminated by thousands of golden tiles then, each reflecting sunlight in unified reverence for the cavernous holy space. Some places make you itch for a time capsule, when even your imagination can't do it justice... if only, with a small twist of a dial...

Living in any city, it is easy to take its landmarks for granted. It had been five years since I'd visited the Hagia Sophia, though I admired it every Sunday on my way to Caferaga Medresesi where my jewelry class used to be.  It remains one of my favorite buildings in Istanbul and brings a smile to my face whenever I perceive its pink blush on the city's skyline, its rose color a friendly wink among its more austere counterparts. And, it is regal inside and out. The vastness and grandeur of its indoor space is breathtaking, and inspires the same type of open-mouthed awe as looking up at a star-filled sky and contemplating humanity's insignificance in relation to the expanse of the universe. The building is a survivor, rising again after being destroyed twice by protesting mobs at different points in history. Its present incarnation was completed in 537 AD by a dream team of architects and stayed standing (third time's a charm...) through earthquakes and time. It has witnessed 1,478 years of history, changing with the years to accommodate new styles and roles- mosaics evolved into representational ones and were whitewashed, minarets were added to the structure during Ottoman times.  Now, it wears the accumulated strata of its architectural changes like elegant heirloom jewelry, handed down. 

Gabby and I decided to make the Hagia Sophia the setting for our second sketching group's meet up site. We met with a few other people on a steel gray day when the Hagia Sophia was terra cotta colored from all the rain. We walked in, gaped upwards at the dome and caught a glimpse of the building's celebrity cat, before heading up to the second floor and settling into different nooks to sketch. I sat on a cold stone step on the building's southern corner and sketched the columns and archways leading to the opposite wall- a good exercise in perspective and proportions. The light was dim and the one uncovered mosaic shone, incandescent from the inky black and gray recesses of the receding archways. Unfortunately, we hadn't know that the building closed at 4:30 and hadn't gotten there much earlier. It was enough time to get a rough sketch down. We will definitely return, since the luxury of an Istanbul museum card gives us unlimited entries. After sitting on cold stone in the damp, it was time to get warmed up. We stopped for hot drinks and to share our drawings at a nearby teahouse. It was a good group of interesting people and I'm looking forward to a follow-up visit.
View from the exit- Blue Mosque


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