Photographer's Note


A group portrait of three great architectural edifices in Istanbul: from left to right, the Blue Mosque (known in Turkish as the “Sultanahmet”) with six minarets; the St. Sophia (“Aya Sofya”) with four, and St. Iriné ("Aya Irini") with none. Seen in silhouette, the first of these is a mere infant 400 years old; the other two have been around for 1500 years.

One of the most historic cities in the world, Istanbul, is also one of the most beautiful. Two thousand eight hundred years ago, the colonizer of cities, Byzans, visited the oracle of Dephi, and posed the question, “Where should I establish my next city?” The oracle, an elderly priestess, retired into her cave in order to ruminate, and returned to utter a garbled response. (She was intoxicated by the hallucinogenic gasses emanating from the walls of the cave.) A priest standing-by interpreted the oracle’s message, “Opposite the Blind!” This meant nothing to Byzans, who took his ships, as he had been planning to all along, and sailed north up the the Aegean — then through the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, and entered the Bosporus. On the right side (starboard) he noticed the exquisite towns of Ischitari and Calcedonia, and murmured out loud, “These people knew where to select the sites for their towns...” Then turning around, he saw the sun setting over the far more beautiful left side (port side) that was easier to defend. He continued, “but they must have been blind to have missed this side!” There he founded “Byzantium” in the 8th century. Four centuries later, Phillip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, lashed his ships together, creating a pontoon bridge so that his army could cross the Bosporus. All this took place before the Christian Era.

In the mid-forth century AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine accepted Christianity as the official state religion, and in dividing the empire into two halves, established Byzantium as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. (Only after his death was the city christened "Constantinople.") A century later still, Justinian the Great, commissioned the building of the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya). Completed in just five years, 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. Three months ago I posted a photo,Deformed with Age, showing the second-floor gallery, along with 1200 year-old Viking Graffiti carved on a bannister.

Nine centuries later (on May 29, 1453) 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. (The huge dome would influence Ottoman architecture dramatically, with the multi-dome design of the mosques of Bursa making way to the single-dome designs of mosques of the future in Istanbul.) Finally, just 75 years ago, the 1500 year-old building was transformed into a museum — no longer a church or a mosque — in a tacit statement by Ataturk of universal religious tolerance, and resistance to one religion or another being the sole steward of the building.

The photograph was shot from the Crystal Serenity, sailing out of Istanbul around 7:30 pm, on August 22nd 2008. The precise location is “Yeni Kapi,” (“New Gate”), where recent archaeological excavations revealed human habitation approximately 8000-8500 years old. Even our distant ancestors recognized beauty when they saw it. The two ancient towns on the Asian Shores of the Bosporus, Ischitari and Calcedonia, are now Üsküdar and Kadiköy, two of the municipalities of this city straddling two continents. Marica Biagini, a fellow physicist and Trekearth enthusiast, posted an image Fall of Constantinople last month that puts this site into better focus.

Nikon D200, Nikkor 28-200 mm lens. ISO 200. Shot in RAW.

With this last post I am submitting in 2008, I would like to wish all my Trekearth friends a New Year, marked by health, happiness and prosperity. —Bulent

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Additional Photos by Bulent Atalay (batalay) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 6774 W: 470 N: 12149] (41261)
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