February 19, 2000
Ahh, I am glad to see that you have finally arrived. Pull up a chair and rest for a bit while I introduce myself. This is no ordinary introduction, you see, I am almost fifteen hundred years old and still going strong. Well, still going, with the normal infirmities one comes to expect with advancing age. Fallen arches, balding domes- it takes more to prop me up than it used to.
But I digress. Allow me to introduce myself. I am known to the world as Aya Sofya, or The Church of the Divine Wisdom. I have lived here in the same spot since I was completed in 548 AD. During this time I have seen many changes, and I have undergone quite a few myself. My days as the greatest church of Eastern Christendom are now behind me, as well as the subsequent years as one of the most beautiful mosques in the world. Few have such a storied past, and in my retirement I now serve as a museum for all those who wish to walk through my hallowed halls.
I am a marvel of engineering. My main dome seems to float in the air without any support, drawing your eyes toward Heaven. It took hollow bricks made in Rhodes of a special porous clay (not to mention brilliant architects) to achieve this effect. When Emperor Justinian first walked through my doors he exclaimed "Glory to God I have
After Emperor Justinian's death in 565 AD the Byzantine Empire began a slow decline. The rise of Islam in the first half of the seventh century began to fill the vacuum, and Muslim forces threatened the walls of Constantinople in 669 as they established a legacy of powerful Arabic Muslim empires in the region. This siege was unsuccessful, but the power shift in the Byzantine region had begun.
I had become set in my ways after all those years, and it took some time to get used to my new incarnation as a mosque and the changes wrought by Muslim rule. My mosaics and frescoes were covered with plaster due to the admonitions in the Koran regarding idolatry, and the name of the city was changed to Istanbul. Huge medallions bearing Allah's name were hoisted in my halls. It was like a complete makeover! The days of Emperor Justinian were a distant memory. Becoming a mosque was somewhat of an identity crisis, but I still commanded respect and admiration throughout the world;
Over the next five hundred years I settled in nicely to my new role. My dome was rebuilt several times, my foundations were reinforced, and I acquired three beautiful minarets over the years. The Ottoman Empire thrived for several centuries, most notably under the rule of Suleyman the Magnificent, who constructed Istanbul's largest mosque. But the Ottoman Empire began to falter by the 19th century, and I soon watched as it passed from the world stage during World War I.
The years had been kind to me, but it was time to retire. Centuries of international intrigue had begun to take their toll. In 1935, Kemal Ataturk declared that I was to become a museum, and my wish was granted. Finally I could take a day off! The plaster was removed from my frescoes and mosaics and many restoration projects were undertaken. Those projects have continued to this day. I wonder how long this new incarnation will last. Perhaps I will be a museum for a few hundred years and then see how I feel. Being a museum is great fun because I get to entertain visitors from all
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...firstname.lastname@example.org
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