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ELPENOR - Home of the Greek Word

Three Millennia of Greek Literature


Edwin Pears
Venetians and Crusaders take Constantinople (1204)
Plunder of the Sacred Relics

Part of Constantinople on the web section of Elpenor's history resources [15 Pages]













Page 10

    First among the buildings as among the works of art, in the estimation of every citizen, was Hagia Sophia. It was emphatically the Great Church. Tried by any test, it is one of the most beautiful of human creations. Nothing in Western Europe even now gives a spectator who is able with an educated eye to restore it to something like its former condition, so deep an impression of unity, harmony, richness, and beauty in decoration as does the interior of the masterpiece of Justinian. All that wealth could supply and art produce had been lavished upon its interior—at that time, and for long afterward, the only portion of a church which the Christian architect thought deserving of study. “Internally, at least,” says a great authority on architecture, “the verdict seems inevitable that Santa Sophia is the most perfect and most beautiful church which has yet been erected by any Christian people. When its furniture was complete the verdict would have been still more strongly in its favor.”

    We have seen that to Nicetas, who knew and loved it in its best days, it was a model of celestial beauty, a glimpse of heaven itself. To the more sober English observer, “its mosaic of marble slabs of various patterns and beautiful colors, the domes, roofs, and curved surfaces, with gold-grounded mosaic relieved by figures or architectural devices,” are “wonderfully grand and pleasing.” All that St. Mark’s is to Venice, Hagia Sophia was to Constantinople. But St. Mark’s, though enriched with some of the spoils of its great original, is, as to its interior at least, a feeble copy. Hagia Sophia justified its founder in declaring, “I have surpassed thee, O Solomon!” and during seven centuries after Justinian his successors had each attempted to add to its wealth and its decoration. Yet this, incomparably the most beautiful church in Christendom, at the opening of the thirteenth century was stripped and plundered of every ornament which could be carried away. It appeared to the indignant Greeks that the very stones would be torn from the walls by these intruders, to whom nothing was sacred.

    Around the Great Church were other objects which could be readily converted into bronze, and the destruction of which was irreparable. The immense hippodrome was crowded with statues. Egypt had furnished an obelisk for the centre, Delphi had given its commemoratory bronze of the victory of Plateae Later works of pagan sculptors were there in abundance, while Christian artists had continued the traditions of their ancestors. The cultured inhabitants of Constantinople appreciated these works of art and took care of them. In giving a list of the more important of the objects which went to the melting-pot, Nicetas again and again urges that these works were destroyed by barbarians who were ignorant of their value. Incapable of appreciating either their historical interest or the value with which the labor of the artist had endowed them, the crusaders knew only the value of the metals of which they were composed.

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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

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