Teaching Hagia Sophia today!

Hagia Sophia - me by Michael Tinkler
Hagia Sophia – me, a photo by Michael Tinkler on Flickr.

That’s your loyal, if lately somewhat irregular, author leaning against a column at the Great Church in 2009.
This really is one of the highlights of any semester for me – the building is such a perfect contrast to the Pantheon, which we studied just a few weeks ago. They exemplify very different approaches to architecture – both their structural systems and their handling of space. We really don’t know what the Pantheon was for, but Hagia Sophia is a really interesting synthesis of basilica and rotunda. I think the Great Church may have been the perfect vessel for the imperial liturgy – goodness knows it worked for 900 years. I can even understand it working as a preaching space, something I’m never so convinced about for basilicas of a similar scale before artificial amplification.

Carnivalesque 63

Carnivalesque 63 – an Ancient and Medieval Version!
Do cities that are just NOT THERE any more matter? You bet they do! But how do we show people what was there if there’s no there there any more? Go look at what can be done with Antioch on the Orontes.
How do you get extant but really fragile manuscripts out of the library where more than one scholar at a time can use them? Here are some really interesting digitalization examples.
And how do you get the DNA out of a manuscript folio to figure out things about – well, about everything, starting with the sheep herd the page was made from. Well, first you have to convince a librarian that a set of 40-micron diameter holes in the edge of a manuscript is acceptable. Then you have to use Michael Drout’s new machine – prototype now available!
Bit players in the grand play of the Fall of the Roman Empire and the eventual emergence of the modern western European nations? Not so fast, buddy! Go read about the Burgundian Civil War and think harder about what makes people(s) central to the story.
Not a bit player at all – the power behind the throne – a new life of the Empress Theodora.
Periodization is always a question. In question? Questionable? But much like bit players and great powers, definition is important, if impossible. Magistra et Mater asks “How late should the late antique go?”
So you didn’t make it to Kalamazoo this year? Jonathan Jarrett covered a BUNCH of sessions incredibly thoroughly – here, here, here, and here He’s not quite Prof. Dr. Boethius P. von Korncrake, but hey – most of us aren’t.
The most important Kalamazoo news? The Chaucer Blogger steps forward!
And finally, what I think must be the most-forwarded ancient or medieval story of the year — the lurid cemetary of the Gladiators at York. Men bitten by Tigers! Differential development of right arms! At least three of my students in Greek Art & Architecture this semester forwarded this to me – and it was on every list serve I’m on, too. And then ADM sent it as a suggestion, too – so clearly Gladiators are In the News!
Happy reading!

The Obelisk of Theodosius – Hippodrome, Istanbul

A great piece of Late Antiquity!

Theodosius the Great had the obelisk brought to Constantinople from Egypt in 390 and erected in the Hippodrome, the chariot racing course. The Hippodrome is still one of the great public spaces of Istanbul – it is between Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, a long block from the Topkapi palace, and there are always folks walking back and forth. I’m rereading a Jason Goodwin mystery that centers on the Janissaries, who had a meeting place in the Hippodrome.

I was as interested in the Late Antique base as anything else, of course – and took a lot of photos (go see four of them on Flickr) of the costume details. There are toga-wearing Romans and long-haired Barbarian soldiers – all kinds of folks! The detail is surprisingly crisp.

Porphyry Column of Constantine

My life story – I walk up to famous, tall thing only to find it scaffolded (see Freiburg Münsterturm).

This elaborate scaffolding surrounds Constantine’s Porphyry Column, now known as the Burnt Column – Çemberlitas in Turkish (and I can’t get the little thingy to come out on the final s, sorry). From a distance I could see the porphyry surface, at least.

The Romans carefully placed it on the main street, running along a ridge top, from forum to forum. The elevation – along with it’s own enormous height something like 110 feet – means that it is visible from the Sea of Marmora and the Golden Horn. Constantine topped it with an enormous statue of himself as the Sun. That’s Constantine all over.

I walked around it several times, then finally spotted the inconspicuous entrance to the Çemberlitas Hamam. Gosh that was pleasant, but it was all for knowledge – Sinan designed the building! Click here and look at the images of the dome.

Airport Blogging – Ataturk Airport

Free wireless! More than one can say for many airports!
The food prices are extreme, though – trying ot drain the last Turkish Lira out of us. It’s working – I totaled up my last few bills and all the change and managed to afford a döner kebab and then small cappuccino at Gloria Jeans (yes, them – they’re all over the place in Istanbul).

Blue Mosque – muqarnas capital

Sulemaniye Mosque

Originally uploaded by Michael Tinkler.

You know, the trip might have been worth it for nothing more than getting a quick immersion in muqarnas, the omnipresent honeycomb decorative technique in Islamic architecture after the year 1000 or 1100; you might compare it with acanthus motifs in Greek architecture and forms derived from that. I have seen lots of pictures, and examples in American museums, but the only other predominantly Muslim country I have ever visited is Malaysia.

People (both officials and folks you meet) are always asking “are you here for business or pleasure?” My short answer is “pleasure,” since looking is a pleasure for me. But really I’m always on duty.