Monday, June 14, 2010

For the next few weeks, I'll be posting some additional entries in the Turkish Miscellany for various letters of the alphabet. For today, here are entries for the letters D and F, both having to do with Aya Sofya (known in Greek as Haghia Sophia):

Enrico Dandolo
The legacy of Venetian Doge Enrico Dandolo (1107-1205) is that of being the wickedest doge, according to J. G. Links in his exceptional book Venice for Pleasure. Dandolo was doge from 1192 until his death, and is chiefly remembered for his directing role in the Fourth Crusade and the sack of Constantinople, which Links describes as "unparalleled in history. The city had been the capital of Christian civilization for nine centuries and was filled with works of art of which, perhaps, only the Venetians knew the true value. When the murder, rape, and looting were done with, the booty was divided up according to the agreement. A quarter was left for the new Emperor enthroned by the invaders, the rest was divided half and half between the Crusaders and the Venetians whose share included the bronze horses on St. Mark's and much else that we still see in Venice. There never was a greater crime against humanity than this 'Crusade against Christians' and it had disastrous consequences for the whole Western world."

Dandolo's involvement with the Crusade started when the Knights of teh Fourth Crusade were stranded in Venice in 1202 because they were unable to pay for the ships they'd commissioned due to fewer men showing up than expected. Dandolo concocted a plan whereby he would suspend the debt to the knights if they assisted the Venetians in restoring Venetian control over Zara, an Adriatic city claimed by both Venice and the Kingdom of Hungary. He "took the cross" -- committed himself personally to the Crusade -- in a ceremony in San Marco, and Venice became the major financial backer of the Fourth Crusade, supplied the ships, and lent money to the Crusaders. When the Crusaders sailed away from Venice, they thought they were going to Egypt, but Dandolo convinced them to stop at Zara and attack the city. Shortly afterward, Alexius Angelus, son of the deposed Byzantine emperor Isaac II, arrived in Zara. Dandolo agreed to the Crusade leaders' plan of putting Angelus on the throne in return for Byzantine support of the Crusade. Old and almost completely blind, he directed and was present at the sack of Constantinople.

The Catholic Crusaders took control of Constantinople and established the Latin Empire, and Venice received title to three-eighths of the (former) Byzantine Empire, which would never again be as powerful as it was before the Fourth Crusade. As for Dandolo, he was buried in Aya Sofya, probably in the upper eastern gallery. There is a grave marker with his name on it that still exists, but there are conflicting stories as to whether it was the Greeks, in 1261, or the Turks, in 1453, who opened the grave and threw his bones to the dogs.

Fossati Brothers
Gaspare and Giuseppe Fossati were Italian Swiss architects who lived in Moscow for some years as official architects of Czar Nicholas I. When the czar sent them to Istanbul to build his new embassy in Pera, they stayed for twenty years. They built not only the Russian embassy in 1837 but also the Dutch embassy and the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Galata, and they restored the Sulemaniye mosque after a fire in 1660 in the service of the sultan. However, they are most noted for their work on Aya Sofya in 1848-1849. The mosaics in Aya Sofya had been covered with whitewash and plaster for 400 years, since the fall of Constantinople. In the 19th century, the Fossatis temporarily uncovered them, but Sultan Abdulmecid reportedly commented on the mosaics of Jesus and Mary, "They are all very beautiful, but for the time it is not appropriate to leave them visible. Clean them and cover them over again carefully, so that they may survive until they are revealed to view in the future." The Fossati brothers set to work completing structural repairs to the building and then covering the mosaics with fresh plaster, and on this Gaspare painted some hubrid Ottoman-Byzantine motifs.

In 1934, Ataturk decreed that Aya Sofya would become a museum and that the mosaics should be revealed. This job was assigned to Thomas Whittemore and the Byzantine Institute of America. According to a work by Natalia Teteriatnikov for Dumbarton Oaks, Mosaics of Haghia Sophia, Istanbul: The Fossati Restoration and the Work of the Byzantine Institute, "The restoration by the Fossatis in the nineteenth century and the consolidation and cleaning by the Byzantine Institute in the twentieth century have been invaluable to the preservation of the mosaics and to the dissemination of information about them." For his part, Thomas Whittemore wrote to his former teacher, Henri Matisse, "My Dear Master, the fourth year of my work uncovering and cleaning the mosaics in Haghia Sophia in Istanbul is now over. Peerless examples of Byzantine art have been preserved in this great church for a thousand years." The Fossatis prepared drawings and watercolors of the interior of Aya Sofya and its mosaics and gave them to the czar, hoping he would publish them. He didn't, and the illustrations wouldn't be published for more than a century later; but Gaspare published an album of lithographs made from his watercolors and dedicated it to the sultan in 1852.

The Mosaics book by Natalia Teteriatnikov is available through the Dumbarton Oaks website,, as an electronic text with images and I highly recommend it. It's also available as a paperback book for $15. If you live in the Washington, D.C. area I also highly recommend visiting Dumbarton Oaks -- its Byzantine art collection is one of the finest in the world and its gardens are beautiful (see the site for the garden's seasonal hours and admission). The Museum is open daily except Monday from 2 to 5.

Cornucopia: The Magazine for Connoisseurs of Turkey ( -- which is one of the most beautifully produced and interesting magazines on earth -- published a feature on the Fossati brothers entitled 'The Miracle of Santa Sophia' and reproduced a fold-out panorama of their drawings and watercolors, which are truly beautiful. The feature was written by Anthony Bryer and it appeared in the very first issue of the magazine, in 1992, and is now very rare and in limited supply; but check the Cornucopia website for more details on purchasing this back issue.

And this fall, Istanbul's Turkish and Islamic Art Museum, in the former palace of Suleyman the Magnificent's grand vezir, Ibrahim Pasha (and across the streets from one of my most favorite hotels in Istanbul, the Ibrahim Pasha,, is hosting a special exhibit on Gaspare Fossati's plan for the renovation of Haghia Sophia. The Museum, which is little visited and very much deserves to be better known, is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 to 5.

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