Friday, February 8, 2008

Friday cat blogging and Haghia Sophia

So, I walked into Haghia Sophia (an earlier post tells me it was on December 13) and there, in the penumbra, was a cat. Right there in the church-turned-mosque-turned-museum, HUGE (the building, not the cat), dark and cavernous and ill-lit in the entrance, then glorious with its high, high vaults and windows and walls of marble and Byzantine icons and Arabic inscriptions. The two cat photos are lousy, but just so you know there really is at least one cat in Haghia Sophia, here they are.

Below them, though, are photos of some of the other sights. Mostly I didn't take pictures. I figured there were better photographs in books and online, and for the most part the things I wanted to photograph were too high or too far away or not really accessible or too large for the lens I had. Also, I spent the first hour or so looking up with my mouth hanging open because the place was so amazing, so I doubt I'd have been capable of taking photos. My second hour there, or some part of a second hour, I recovered a bit and took these few pictures. Some are, as you will see below, photos of photos.

There is scaffolding in Haghia Sophia. There is almost always scaffolding there. It's an old building and an architectural miracle, so something always needs repair or threatens to collapse unless it's held up by something.

By clicking the links above, you will see photos that give you a little sense of the vast space. With my camera, I only took close-ups. Haghia Sophia is even bigger than you can imagine. The Byzantines never built anything close to that size again.

I've already posted a photo of the tile below, but I want you to get a sense of sequence in which I saw and photographed.

Many kinds of marble were shipped here to make the walls. (Remember, this is back in the 6th century, so we're not talking freight trains.) This was just one among many of the marble slabs, though one of the most beautiful.

I went upstairs after this. To get to the second floor, you walk up a corridor that winds around and still has what looks like the original pavement and walls.

I kept imagining, both on the bottom floor and as I walked up this corridor, what liturgy must have been like here. The robes, the incense, the processions.

All men, of course.

The Empress and her ladies sat upstairs, in a special gallery with a balcony.

I imagined what it might have been like to walk to the upper floor in this very corridor, on these very stones.

That's not a dead end. The corridor turns left when you get to that wall in front of you.

In one of the upper galeries was a photo exhibit. This isn't as ridiculous as it sounds. The upper walls of Haghia Sophia have magnificent mosaics (icons made of mosaic really), but you can't see them up close. With the help of some sort of fabulous photographic technology and maybe some scaffolding, a photographer whose name I don't have handy made this set of pictures of the mosaics. The curators then put them up in light glass or plexiglas frames so that they would have the real thing just behind them and you could thus get the best possible perspective on the mosaics. So I took photos of the photos.

This here is the Theotokos with Emperor John II Comnenus and Empress Irene, his wife. (There was more than one royal Irene in Byzantium. This is not Irene the Icon Queen --not her real title-- who lived many centuries before.) The mosaic dates from the early 12th century.

Then we've got someone who looks like John the Baptizer, but I must check. Sorry for the flash, but it was dark dark dark in there.

And here again is Herself.

After the fall of Byzantium in 1453, Haghia Sofia became a mosque, so it has minarets, and this is a view of one of them from the outside yard.

An ablution fountain, which I have mentioned before, is outdoors. It is not used since this place is now a museum, but it was for the use of the worshippers at the mosque, and there are many like it, though much less ornate, around town in other mosque courtyards.

And then there was a not too happy looking cat in a corner, outside either Haghia Sophia or the Blue Mosque. It looks cold to me. It was a grey rainy day. The cat inside Haghia Sophia was happier, sheltered under the great vaults and clearly at home in the building. I don't know what this business is in Orham Pamuk's memoir about packs of dogs roaming around Istanbul. I saw cats, cats, and more cats.


FranIAm said...

Oh Jane- these photos are great, I love that they have the flash or the darkness, that is what it is like unless we are seeing the work of professionals. I like the feeling of being there myself that they present.

This is gorgeous; I day I will go there.

And the cats... Nice.

You inspire me to do more travel posts. Oh that old demon time, really it is the problem!

Grandmère Mimi said...

Jane, thanks for the pictures. The mosaics are lovely. And I do like the Hagia Sophia cats.

Jane R said...

Glad you enjoyed the photos! It was fun taking the time to post them, though Fran is right, it took time and of course it was time I was supposed to be spending otherwise. Oh well. Nice to share these with friends. It makes the trip and its memories more special. Now they are part of our collective life.

FranIAm said...

I have so many travel posts to do. I have done many, but many remain.

That old demon time...

Jane, thanks for your comment on my book meme post. I do need to do a post on my time in Andalusia, I have been there twice, both times during Holy Week, which is extraordinary.

MikeF said...

Wonderful pictures!

Tell me, Jane, these cats - are they friendly or feral? they all look so happy and at home in your pictures that I can't somehow imagine them as wild and terrified of humans...


Jane R said...

Dear Mike, the cats are pretty friendly. The ones on the street where I was staying were fed regularly by the locals (there were bowls of cat food in the street! which doesn't mean cats didn't also help themselves to garbage). They didn't exactly snuggle, but they weren't at all scared of people and they cohabited very nicely with humans. The cats in Kadikoy (Chalcedon) who were curled up against each other were in a grassy courtyard which was either their home or a regular place for them -- they looked very cozy. The church/mosque/museum (often a place went from being a Byzantine church to a mosque and then to a museum in the 20th century -- though there are also "working" churches and mosques) cats were more of a mystery, but since this was clearly their hangout, I suspect that in several places a caretaker fed them or they had a regular place to scrounge for food. The one in Haghia Sophia looked like s/he belonged there for sure, as did a cat in Kariye Camii, aka Saint Saviour in Chora ("the Country"), whose picture I didn't get.

They struck me as different from the cats in Rome's Foro Romano and other ancient forums, who congregate in huge numbers and seem to have their own society. Which is not to say that there aren't colonies of feral cats in Istanbul. I just didn't see them. The cats seemed to be just part of the densely populated landscape.

There is a lovely story about the Prophet Muhammad which I learned some years ago. His cat fell asleep on his arm and so as not to wake the cat, the Prophet cut off the sleeve of his garment.

We are having very high winds here in Greensboro, so strong that they blew open the door of my house and later the church door! Maya Pavlova, the cat, is intrigued by the leaves and branches blowing about outside - and glad she is indoors, I think. It's a big scary out there with trees shaking. (No, no tornadoes, just high gusts of wind.)

In California where I lived before, a bookstore I know had a resident cat, and it wasn't the only such store. There seems to be a tradition of cats in bookstores (not the big chain stores, but the smaller independent more cozy ones) in the U.S. here and there --not sure if that is so in the U.K. as well. So perhaps in Istanbul many houses of worship have a resident cat. Hard to tell.

Jane R said...

Oops, I meant to write "a biT scary."

MikeF said...

It's great to find someone who takes as much notice of cats as I do, Jane!

I like the idea of these amiable felines, living quietly with their human fellow-citizens. Reminds me of all the farm cats we knew over the years, who varied from distant acquaintances to friends who'd come in and curl up by the Rayburn with the dog and the other cats.

That's a wonderful story about the Prophet, by the way - I immediately took a shine to him when I first read that. I often think of it when I'm going to great lengths to do things without disturbing one or other of ours. They make excellent excuses not to vacuum the floor at any given time, since that both hate the machine with a vengeance!

MikeF said...

My turn for an oops ;-) I meant to write, "THEY both hate the machine..."