Mount of Olives panorama

Mount of Olives panorama
A panoramic view of the Mount of Olives

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Turkey Day 7: Iznik and a Return to Istanbul

On our final day in Turkey, we left Bursa early and drove to Iznik, which is the ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine city of Nicaea.  Iznik lies on beautiful lake in the verdant, hilly area of northeastern Turkey near the Sea of Marmara.  On of the principal cities of the Hellenistic kingdom of Bithynia, after which it was the capital of a Roman province, a Byzantine theme, and then an Ottoman Turkish district.  In the Ottoman period, and even now, it is famous for its ceramic tiles, known as Iznik Ware.  The city and some of its ancient churches and early mosques were heavily damaged in 1922 in fighting between the Greeks and the Turks when the Greeks tried unsuccessfully to restore the western coast and northeastern coast, which along with Constantinople had been the heart of the Byzantine Empire, to Greek rule

First, enjoy the highlights video:

The plan of the walled city of Iznik

Group pic standing before one of the old gates of Nicaea
In A.D. 325, the emperor Constantine, not yet a Christian himself, summoned all the bishops of his empire to the First Ecumenical Council to settle matters of theology.  Between 220 and 318 ended up attending.  The major topic was the question of the divinity of Jesus Christ, particularly his exact relationship to the father.  The resulting formulation known as the Nicaean Creed, which is accepted by the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and most Protestant churches as a normative definition of Christian faith.

Standing on and around some of the remains of the Senatus Palace, where the Council of  Nicaea may have been held
It is believed that the council held its sessions in Constantine's summer palace, which may have been on the site of some stone foundations and walls that extend out into Lake Nicaea.  Standing and sitting around the remains of the palace and with the lake as a backdrop, Jared spoke about the history of the Council of Nicaea.  I then talked a little about the Seventh Ecumenical Council, also held at Nicaea, but then mostly talked about LDS views on revelation and faith.  I recounted the First Vision and what Joseph Smith learned about the Father and the Son in that experience, and we read aloud together the first four articles of faith.  We then sang "I Believe in Christ," which contains many important christological statements as well.

Jared teaching

Eric teaching
Singing "I Believe in Christ"

When the Seventh Ecumenical Council was held in Nicaea, it met in the church if Hagia Sophia, which is a little sister to the big church in Istanbul.  This grand old lady is many feet below today's street level and is not in very good shape.  After the Fourth Crusade, when the Byzantine government was in exile because the Latins occupied Constantinople, Nicaea was the acting capital and the patriarch presided over the Orthodox church from here.  It became a mosque in the Ottoman period and then a museum in the Republic.  But just a few months ago part of it was turned back into a mosque.  It turned out okay because only PART of it is a mosque, right in the middle and oriented on an angel towards the qiblah that is directed towards Mecca.  The rest of the building is still a museum, so one does not need to take off one's shoes while walking around the non-mosque portions.

The "little" Hagia Sofia in Iznik, with Muslim minaret
Back of Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya in Turkish)

The sign says "The Aya Sofya Mosque"

Interior of the Iznik Aya Sofya.  The mosque portion is the raise platform with carpets

The qiblah and minbar (pulpit) are oriented towards Mecca

Hints of the Byzantine frescoes that once adorned all the walls
We then drove to Yalova, a port on the Sea of Marmara, where we had lunch and then took a ferry across to the Asian side of Istanbul.  After working our way painfully through Istanbul traffic, we at last reached our destination: Hagia Sophia!  The name means "Holy Wisdom" and is a reference to an aspect of the Logos or Divine Word which became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ.  Today's structure is actually the third church of that name built on the site.  The first was built by Constantine and the second by Theodosius II, but both of these earlier churches burned down.

The view of Hagia Sophia from the outside.

The third church was built by the emperor Justinian, during whose reign the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire reached its greatest extent.  It is an amazing structure, with a dome 102 feet in diameter soaring over the naves.  From it cascade a series of half domes, and the entire effect is fantastic.  Justinian dedicated the church in A.D. 537, and for 916 years it was the seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople and the head of the Eastern Orthodox church.  When Constantinople fell to the Turks in A.D. 1453, it was converted to a mosque, until it became a museum in 1935.

The stunning interior of Hagia Sophia

Plan of the main floor

Looking up at the great central dome

Most of the stunning mosaics that would have covered all of the interior domes and many of the wall surfaces are no longer visible or intact.  They were plastered over in the Muslim period because of Islam's prohibition against representative art.  But some of them have since been restored, giving a hint of what the church must have been like in its heyday.

Upper gallery: the empress' lodge

A Byzantine emperor and empress make offerings to the Mother and Child

The apse with Mary and Baby Jesus in the semi dome above

Bro Pic
My class in the gallery, with me and Fatih as well
Plan of the upper floor

Example of the artistic use of colored marble panels on the walls
Byzantine Dudes: with Kyle and Ethan
Spot where the coronation of Byzantine emperors took place

Reunion pic (with former students): Makara, Cameron, Ashley, and Logan
More Byzantine Dudes: Tuck, Stuart, and Dane
Justinian offers the church of Hagia Sophia and Constantine the city of Constantinople to the Virgin and Child
One of the seraphim that adorn the pendentives supporting the central dome

Eh-hem.  A flash mob outside of Hagia Sophia?

After some free time wandering Istanbul and dinner, it was time to say goodbye to one of our favorite cities.  Our trip to Turkey has been great!

Hagia Sofia, once the Queen of Churches, at night
The Blue Mosque at night

Lizzy serving as my front for a pic of a sultan wanna-be

Our guide, Fatih, and our driver, Tahir

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