Growing up with non-religious parents and a secular education it has been difficult for me to understand the power and meaning behind many of the works of the Byzantines since it revolves around the rise of Christianity. However, when walking in to the Chora Church a background in the New Testament was not necessary because the images and colors were so amazing that if you are not religious you can at least appreciate this art form for its pure beauty.
One of my favorite topics that we covered in our course was the shape and style of the basilicas. It is intriguing that even their places of worship were shaped in relation to Christ. The long nave with the dual transepts creates the form of the Eastern Orthodox cross. Inside of the basilicas was a uniform placement in which the biblical images were displayed that make it easier to identify a structure as belonging to the Byzantine era. Christ Pantokrator had its traditional placement at the center of the dome, the Virgin Mary in the Apse, and typically a narrative mosaic of the life of Christ along the narthex.
The iconoclasm controversy was actually a very interesting topic because I was aware prior to this class that the followers of Islam were iconoclasts and at the fall of the Eastern Empire many religious images were either destroyed or covered with plaster. It just seems amazing that during the middle of the Byzantine era, where icons were aplenty in every structure, they became an issue of debate.
Visiting such structures like the Chora Church and the Hagia Sophia did not have a religious impact on me but it gave me a feeling of contentment that I have the opportunity to experience it. Getting to see the mosaics at the Mosaic Museum, where the emperor himself actually walked across this beautiful flooring, made me feel like I was earning a much greater appreciation for the history of this region and the eventual development of the modern world.
In response to the first class blog, I must say that my perception of the Byzantines has drastically been effected. Before coming to Istanbul I had stated that I had no prior knowledge as to their beginnings, relations to the Roman Empire, the boundaries, or when and how they met their demise. I am confident that my assessment when I said that through art and architecture a researcher can understand a society’s religious and social views. They Byzantines based so much of their daily lives, morals, and pride in being the Eastern Roman Empire in their designs around the city of Constantinople.
The city of Istanbul came as an extremely pleasant surprise. I was not thrown into a third world country where they hate westerners and are too conservative for our tolerance. Istanbul is truly the crossroads between Europe and the rest of the western world with the Middle East and the mysterious orient. The citizens that I have had the chance to meet are very tolerant and not even remotely as close-minded and hateful as many news channels in the U.S. like to depict. Furthermore, the amount of historical relevance to the rest of the modern world is monumental that even though I visited so many museums, churches, etc, I still feel that there is so much more for me to experience. What I will miss the most is the call to prayer coming from the mosques throughout the day. Even though I have no idea what is being said the echoing of the songs over the city while we go about our day gives me a moment of sincere tranquility that I find hard to achieve anywhere else. This city and culture is so beautiful that it will be hard going home and having a crazy driver honk his horn at me in anger instead of letting me know he is just passing by.