When I learned I would be going to Istanbul on fairly short notice, I consulted with my daughter who had recently returned from there. She advised that I read Istanbul: The Collected Traveler, An Inspired Companion Guide edited by Barrie Kerper. I took her advice and read this and other books to learn as much about Istanbul as quickly as I could. The more I read about this fabled city, the more I was overwhelmed with how much I did not know. Because here’s the thing about Istanbul: whatever you know or see or experience, there is always more.
Now that I am back from Istanbul I naturally want to share some of the “more” that I experienced there during my brief visit. I anticipate that this task will be just as easy as pulling individual jewel- colored pieces of glass out of a twirling, revolving kaleidoscope. If such a thing were possible, one piece I would extract would be that of design. I cannot think of a single place I looked in Istanbul where I did not behold the splendor of ancient design. Whenever I am surrounded by works which have survived the centuries, I am humbled by the skills of these long dead artists and craftsmen. How did they live? How did they learn to plan and carry out works in stone, in glass, in paint, in jewels, in fibers?
I could go on and on describing my emotional reactions to these wonders, but you already know my magpie tendencies. So without further ado here are some some designs I admired from just one place: the Hagia Sophia Museum.
In my musings about ancient structures and design, I am always reassured at how similar humans seem to be through the ages. We seem wired to decorate, to embellish, to arrange raw materials around us in order to make statements about ourselves in this world, and about what we believe to be the world to come. In the majestic spaces of the Hagia Sophia I am reminded like untold numbers before me that I am but a miniscule speck beneath the glory of the heavens. Through carvings, paintings, mosaics, and more, artists of the early Christian and Ottoman periods speak to us of intangibles: life, love, eternity, brotherhood. Questions they struggled with then we still struggle with today. I find a pleasing design in that.