Hagia Sophia Author:Lord Kinross The fires of religious fervor were burning as never before. Bound for the Holy Land at the beginning of the thirteenth century, teh fanatical warriors of the Fourth Crusade altered their course for a far more tempting prize: Constantinople with its magnificent Church of the Holy Wisdom, Hagia Sophia. — The Crusaders chose their target shrewdly.... more » Hagia Sophia represented the apotheosis of Byzantine art and wealth. Rare marbles, gathered from the farthest reaches of the empire, shone in its side galleries, gold candelabra glinted from its nave, and breathtaking gold mosaics covered every inch of its ceilings. Lying at the very heart of the richest city in the known world, Hagia Sophia had long been coveted by the leaders of both the Moslem East and the Christian West. Its capture in 1204 was an inestimable victory for the soldiers of the Cross.
But the great chruch had not endured the last of its woes. Two and a half centuries later Constantinople was besieged and sacked again - this time by the Ottoman Turks. At the behest of their young sultan, Mohammed II, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque: the church's Christian treasures were pillaged, its spiritual face was turned toward Mecca, and its glorious mosaics were eventually defaced.
It was not until the latter half of the nineteenth century that the first tentative efforts were made to restore Justinian's church to its former spendor. By that time, whitewash had obliterated the mosaics and grime had dulled the marbles. In this century, painstaking restoration has gradually revealed the long-hidden glories that led one observer to describe Hagia Sophia as "a spectacle of marvelous beauty."
Supplementing the narrative of Hagia Sophia are some 110 illustrations, more than on-half in full color. Jeweled reliquaries, illuminated manuscripts, and old engravings combine with photographs of Hagia Sophia's hulking exterior, echoing interior, and extraordinary mosaics to re-create the vigor and splendor of the great church at her zenith.« less