In photos: Turkey’s Aya Sofya is an ancient marvel
McLean, Va. / Albany, Calif.
Traveling to Istanbul, Turkey, last spring I did not expect to find any links to Scandinavia, but to my surprise I did. In the world-famous Aya Sofya, there’s graffiti left by at least one of our Viking ancestors. Who knew?
The runic characters that I saw are attributed to Halfdan, a Viking mercenary, believed to have carved his name in the marble in the 9th century. The inscription is worn down so much that it is only half legible, but it’s thought to say something akin to “Halfdan was here” (“Halfdan carved these runes”).
Although apparently the first, he was not the only Viking to leave his mark. Similar—but later—Runic carvings have also been discovered in another part of the upstairs gallery. These are believed to have been done by a member of the Varangian Guard, an elite unit of the Byzantine army, to which Norse mercenaries flocked beginning in the 10th century.
Restoring and keeping up Aya Sofya is a tricky matter, given the building’s long history. Christian mosaics and other art have been restored, but often at the expense of the later Muslim art that covered it. Yet examples of both remain.
All in all, it’s a unique historic marvel!
All photos by Carla Danziger. With thanks to research sources Lonely Planet Guide and Wikepedia.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 3, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.