Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Angels We Have Finally Seen On High

If I had to pick just one building - a single building, not a complex or a compound - as my favorite building in the world, it would be Istanbul's 6th century gem, the Hagia Sophia. A church turned mosque turned museum, the Hagia Sophia was the largest domed structure in the world until it was exceeded by St. Peter's, in Rome. It's still mighty big, and it feels very much a part of antiquity.

So, this soaring, magnificent semi-ruin has a prime pedigree. And it just got better. A 700-year-old mosaic of an angel, covered by plaster since 1849 to avoid offending Muslim sensibilities over human likenesses in art, has just been uncovered. Not only that, but there are three more angels in the building, also anchored under the massive ceiling and still largely obscured by plaster - and the scaffolding that has hidden parts of the Hagia Sophia from public view.

Today's New York Times (, the In Transit blog) cites Turkey's Ministry of Tourism and Culture as the authority that gave the go-ahead to uncover and restore this and a second mosaic angel. Consideration is now also being given to restoring the third and four hidden angels, which are paintings. Big shields attached to the walls and containing Arabic calligraphy are also being restored.

The bad news is the restoration of this grand heritage masterpiece has many years to run. The Times quotes A. Haluk Dursun, president of the Hagia Sophia Museum, as saying "The scaffoldings will remain in the Hagia Sophia for a while.''

Scaffolding or no, it's good news that visitors will be able to admire at least some of the angels we have not seen on high - and that such careful work is going forward on this treasure.

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