Sultanahmet: Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Istanbul
Three Enduring Masterpieces of Design and Engineering
Posted on: March 14, 2010 at 2:43PM
While extremely busy with waiting lines that form early even in poor weather, these Istanbul icons should not be missed. Once inside, you are free to explore at your leisure and it is very easy to spend most of a day in the immediate area.
The Hagia Sophia immediately impresses you with the change it has undergone in its extremely long life. Not only has the form been modified, but the nature of worship. Fortunately such changes mainly covered the old instead of obliterating. The upper gallery and inner passageways impress one with the ability of solid stone to bend before it breaks. Unfortunately the main chamber is currently filled with enormous scaffolding whose purpose is not only to restore the magnificent ceiling, but to reinforce a structure that is not expected to survive another significant earthquake. The veneer stone panels adorning most of the walls are absolutely amazing and were obviously very carefully selected for their beautiful geometric patterns as well as surprisingly literal depictions of living things--plants, animals and humans alike.
Basilica cistern displays Roman engineering at its finest. It is still waterproof, leakproof, fireproof and completely self-supporting. Hundreds of columns in an array of stone and styles support the original, intricately vaulted brick ceiling. There is no better place to understand the structural purpose of the many pieces that comprise a complete stone column assembly nor to understand how embelishments are merely necessary forms made decorative.
The Blue Mosque is still an active place of worship fully deserving of your deference and respect regardless of your personal religious beliefs. The brilliant engineering finds surprisingly thin walls and few (if HUGE) columns supporting an enormous and highly complex dome. While the strength and even resistance to earth movement of the completed structure is apparent, I like many modern engineers am nearly dumbfounded by what methods could have been used to support it during construction.