The Hagia Sophia is much in the news these days. Ever since Erdogan has reverted it from being a Museum back to a Mosque. The Christian world has suddenly, yet again, woken up to the usurpation of its iconic heritage by Islam and this has set off a large scale condemnation. But what, in truth, is the true usurpation?
A PAGAN DOOR
The oldest architectural element of Hagia Sophia however, is a door. The NICE door. A door which was plundered from a temple. It belonged to the ‘pagans’, they say, belonging to the Ancient Period in Cydnus. It dates back to 2nd Century BC.
Notice the adorn of saplings and flowers…and that odd symbol which had even Hitler fascinated? One would almost be mistaken to think it to belong to a temple in India. But the door was looted from a Pagan temple by Emporer Justinian. It belonged to a Greek temple from Tarsus (in Turkey). It isn’t known exactly whose temple it was, cos the Pagan history of Turkey has mostly been effaced. But the intricacies of the work wouldn’t look out of place in any of our Indian temples.
The Swastika is a 30,000-year-old symbol and has prevailed over many cultures. And definitely amongst the Greek. Cos the paganism of Greece mirrored many a practice which is ‘Hinduism’. But the Nice Door isn’t the only pagan component of the Hagia Sophia. The structure is replete with elements which have been raided and usurped from the pagan world.
A LOOT OF TEMPLES
The original structure of Hagia Sophia is a Greek Orthodox church. Thus, it doesn’t have the ‘spire’, which a church is generally identified by. Rather it has a dome. The dome was constructed, partially on a trial and error basis (cos the first dome collapsed) by Greek engineers and mathematicians. In building the Hagia Sophia with stone as against wood, the emperor Constantine II spared no efforts to plunder all his kingdom to get the greatest architectural masterpieces from across the realm. Thus you will find pillars in the Hagia Sophia which are entirely dissimilar. Hagia Sophia was built defacing older symbols.
In Ephesus, a town of antiquity, in current-day Turkey, sat the Temple of Diana or Artemis. This temple was one of the known wonders of the world of that time. July 21 marks the destruction of the Temple of Artemis in 356 BC, due to arson committed by a man named Herostratus. He was seeking his 15 mins of fame, and as he couldn’t do anything to earn fame for himself, he decided to set fire to a wonder of the world. He was executed. His name effaced. But a historian recorded it, for the records, and now his fame, be it of ignominy, is enshrined in history. 21st July 356 BC was also the day of Alexander’s birth.
The temple was rebuilt after the arson and survived another seven centuries…before it was closed during the persecution of Pagans in the Christianised Roman Empire and ultimately reduced to rubble in 401 CE by Justinian I. He let nothing stand of that magnificent structure, even as he went about effacing Pagan history to establish Christianity. Only eight magnificent green columns remained. Which he plundered and brought to create the Hagia Sophia.
IT’S PAGAN THROUGH AND THROUGH
The Hagia Sophia is, in itself, built on a Pagan temple. Which was destroyed (some suggest that it was a Pagan burial ground, but there hasn’t been evidence of the same).
The original church on the site of the Hagia Sophia is said to have been built by Constantine I in 325 on the foundations of a pagan temple.Encyclopedia Britannica
Some say that the site was first a pagan temple in honor of Apollo and Venus. In fact, the Hagia Sophia was in itself built by Pagans put to labour.
A figure overlooked in scholarship on Hagia Sophia is Phokas, the praetorian prefect of 532 under whom the construction of the church began. He was a pagan who eventually took his own life in one of Justinian’s purges.The Making of Hagia Sophia and the Last Pagans of New Rome: Anthony Kaldellis
His initial supervision of the construction of Hagia Sophia is attested by Ioannes Lydos, himself a pagan intellectual, who praised Phokas in superlative terms, despite Phokas’ infamous death. Consideration of all the evidence for an architect of Hagia Sophia, Anthemios of Tralleis, beyond the literary sources usually cited, strongly suggests that he belonged to the pagan wing of the school of Ammonius of Alexandria, as did the architect Isidoros of Miletos. Material presented here explains how the last pagans of New Rome contributed to the making of Hagia Sophia and suggest how they may have interpreted the monument on their own terms.
Ten thousand workers went on to build the Church of Justinian I. The Hagia Sophia gave us an architectural marvel though. The DOME. It was the first such large dome built with stone. This would then transport the concept of large dome all over the world. From St Paul’s cathedral to the Taj Mahal.
The structure though, the Church, begot from spoils of war, became a spoil of war in its own…and became a mosque. To which the conquerors built minarets. To change the identity. But the dome remained as the defining element of all Turkish mosques. The dome and the ‘minars’, which were influenced by seemingly phallic wind-eroded shapes of Cappadocia.
The Hagia Sophia is essentially a Temple, which was usurped as a Church. Rebuilt thrice as a Church. Which was then usurped as a Mosque (after a bloodfest which was conducted during the sacking of Constantinople, in itself not much different from the persecution of Pagans by Constantine II, seven centuries earlier) which was released as a Museum, to free itself from its history of usurpation, to now be commandeered as a Mosque.
One can’t quite discuss the ‘pagans’ in Turkey now, though. There are ‘official’ narratives which have to be plied by the local guides. The Turkish are a very friendly lot. But they do acknowledge that their principle ideology has been built by conquest and defacement of others. Until there was Kemal Ataturk. How Ataturk leads to India’s partition will make for another tale.
Incidentally, Hitler got his Swastik from Turkey. Not just cos Turkey and Germany had an age-old relationship, but through a Germa Archeologist, Schliemann. Schliemann found his epic city—and the swastika—on the Aegean coast of Turkey, all in search of the fabled city of Troy.
Schliemann found his epic city—and the swastika—on the Aegean cost of Turkey. There, he continued the excavations started by British archaeologist Frank Calvert at a site known as Hisarlik mound. Schliemann’s methods were brutal—he used crowbars and battering rams to excavate—but effective. He quickly realized the site held seven different layers from societies going back thousands of years. Schliemann had found Troy—and the remains of civilizations coming before and after it. And on shards of pottery and sculpture throughout the layers, he found at least 1,800 variations on the same symbol: spindle-whorls, or swastikas.The Man Who Brought the Swastika to Germany, and How the Nazis Stole It: Smithsonian Magazine
Schliemann would go on to find the Swastika across cultures. And, through that also come across the term ‘Aryan’, an ancient Sanskrit term, signifying nobility, which started getting associated with the Indo-European ‘race’. This loose theory would go on to form the myth which Hitler was trying to peg his theories on.
Eugene Burnouf, the first Western expert on Buddhism, stated in his book Lotus de la bonne loi (1852) that the sauvastika was a Buddhist variant of the svastika.
When Heinrich Schliemann discovered swastika motifs in Troy, he wrote to the Indologist Max Müller, who, quoting Burnouf, confirmed this distinction, adding that “the svastika was originally a symbol of the sun, perhaps of the vernal sun as opposed to the autumnal sun, the sauvastika, and, therefore, a natural symbol of light, life, health, peace and wealth.”The letter was published in Schliemann’s book Ilios (1880)
The findings of Schliemann’s dig in Turkey, then, suddenly had a deeper, ideological meaning. For the nationalists, the “purely Aryan symbol” Schliemann uncovered was no longer an archaeological mystery—it was a stand-in for their superiority. German nationalist groups like the Reichshammerbund (a 1912 anti-Semitic group) and the Bavarian Freikorps (paramilitarists who wanted to overthrow the Weimar Republic in Germany) used the swastika to reflect their “newly discovered” identity as the master race. It didn’t matter that it traditionally meant good fortune, or that it was found everywhere from monuments to the Greek goddess Artemis to representations of Brahma and Buddha and at Native American sites, or that no one was truly certain of its origins.Smithsonian Magazine
And thus an ancient symbol was usurped to serve a very perverted mythology. And is now used as a beating sticks by that same theology which has been trying to efface ‘Paganism’ for so many centuries.
But, what about the close resemblance between Greek mythology, customs, traditions, rituals…with the Hindu religion? Is it just a fluke? People say, ‘Hinduism’ or whatever we call this faith, never went beyond the subcontinent? Or so we are told. The door too, is resigned to a bastard’s identity. Except for the Mitani people, who lived along with the ancient Egyptians, and was one of the flourishing civilizations of Anatolia (Turkey). They wrote and communicated in Sanskrit. It is always convenient to club a belief in the nameless ‘Pagan’ faith so that the body of work remains unclaimed in history by any family of thought.
The Nice door, now opens up to the Mosque of Hagia Sophia One wonders, in its hoary past, what original temple of thought it opened up to? Wrt the Swastika, it didn’t quite die. It became the Cross of the church, and then got assimilated into Islamic calligraphy. But that will make for a separate post.
Maybe the Swastik, uneffaced, remains dormant, like the volcanoes which make up Cappadocia, in Turkey?
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