Constantinople (not Byzantium)

Before Constantinople was renamed Istanbul in 1930, the name ‘Istanbul’ had been used by its inhabitants for hundreds of years.  But before that, the swing hit “Istanbul (not Constantinople)” was actually “Constantinople (not Byzantium)”.  Both names come from kings who obviously had too much ego (Constantine and Byzas).  Istanbul, on the other hand, is a very humble name, simply coming from the Greek phrase eis tên polin (‘to the city’).  Everyone knows that Istanbul was Constantinople, but why does no one ever say Byzantium?  Is it because they don’t know what to do with that silly y in Byz?  Who knows…but I like the name Byzantium, because it sorta makes my mouth buzz, and I’m going to share with you perhaps its greatest marvel: the Hagia Sofia.

The Hagia Sofia was dedicated in 360 AD, but it burned down.  The second Hagia Sofia burned down, too (didn’t they learn their lesson?)  Today’s structure was dedicated by Justinian in 537 and served as a church in Istanbul until 1453 when the Muslim Ottomans took power and converted it into a mosque.  It has always struck me as interesting that one religion is happy to use another religion’s building after making the necessary modifications.  It seems kinda sacrilegious, doesn’t it?  I don’t know whether it is a symbol of subjugation (like, “haha, look what we did to your church!”) or just one of practicality (I’m sure it would be really expensive to build a comparable mosque).  Ever since 1935 it hasn’t been a functional place of worship for Muslims or Christians, but is now a museum.  Anyway, I took quite a bit of footage in the Hagia Sofia (about 5 minutes) and narrated what I could, so if you watch the video, you’ll get a pretty good orientation to the building.  You can see many remnants from both the Christian and Muslim days.

Allison and I both agreed that visiting the Hagia Sofia was the best part of our trip to Istanbul–*cough* I mean, Byzantium–and we also agreed that the worst part of our trip was getting food poisoning.  I’m going on my fifth day of this wicked illness’ sick and perverted effects, although the doctor gave me some medication yesterday that should help me get better, I hope.  Or, maybe I can find a wealthy emperor to buy me a new stomach…

-James, the younger brother

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One Response to Constantinople (not Byzantium)

  1. Carol says:

    Can’t wait to share this with my students. We spent a good deal of time on Byzantium (and that’s what we called it until the great emperor Constantine changed its name). We also did an activity using the song, Istanbul was Constantinople. (by that great band, They Might Be Giants) We also learned about Emperor Justinian and the construction of the Hagia Sophia. Wish I could have gone with you!

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