(St. Sophia Cathedral)
ancient church is the chief mosque in the northern state of Cyprus, and the
great festivals of Bayram and other Moslem gatherings are conducted here. It was
formerly the cathedral of St. Sophia which was built in the period 1209 A.D. to
1228, over the ruins of a previous building. Only recently, in 1976, have the
ruins of the ancient building before 1200 A.D. been discovered, on the southern
side. In style of architecture, St. Sophia resembles the famous mediaeval
cathedrals of France.
The church was severely damaged
by earthquakes in 1491, 1547 and 1735 A.D. and yet, as we see it today, the
cathedral has survived. What is the reason for this? One would expect such high
buildings to be razed to the ground during those severe earthquakes that
occurred some centuries ago, for in those days, reinforced concrete and steel
girders were unknown. The builders of ancient Gothic cathedrals always strived
to make them as high as possible, to reach "up to heaven" and so
inspire both awe and solemnity. The problem was how to do this, and, at the same
time ensure that the walls would not collapse. This was done by building stone
pillars outside to support the walls which are known as buttresses. If you live
in a "posh" villa in Cyprus, your walls should be supported at the
corners by buttresses. If there are none, then get out of the house quickly in
the next earthquake.
Figure 7 shows a massive
buttress for St. Sophia cathedral, of which there are many all round the
exterior walls. Notice how massive they are, and widened at the base to give
added strength. Later it was found that for such high walls, these buttresses
were weak and the first Gothic churches of the 11th century often cracked and
collapsed. The next improvement to be made was that of the flying buttress.
one shown in Figure 7 is unique, for it springs from the ground level, while all
the others spring from high massive pillars. There is a much frequented
pedestrian walk underneath the archway here, as it leads to the bus station
nearby. For many years, a well known character had his smoking kebab stall here,
but not only did he sell t he roasted meat, but he himself seemed to eat it all
day long. He grew bigger and bigger until he, too, needed a buttress, but alas
he has now departed.
Another improvement was to make
the flying buttress spring from the conventional pillar type, by raising the
latter to a much greater height. This would then give support to the topmost
part of the walls and, most important of all, to the roof.
roof always remained the weakest structure in all cathedrals, and likewise, it
is so in your own house. This is the mass that comes down on you during an earth
tremor; just too bad if the 'quake occurs during the night! In Figure
8, the high
flying buttresses have been used to build a very high nave with very large
windows. The makers of stained glass windows were expert craftsmen and they
wanted big window spaces for displays of biblical scenes and, at the same time,
a "dim religious light" was maintained to inspire awe and reverence.
Churches were purposely kept dark and gloomy, for natural fears of the dark are
part and parcel of the psychic establishment of reverence.
ln the eastern part of the
church, i.e. the choir and altar section, it was always difficult to provide
support, because the walls were weakened by so many windows.
ln Figure 9 we can
see the semi-circular arrangement of the flying buttresses which are very
necessary in this part of the building owing to the polygonal shape of the apse.
Notice, in fig. 8, how wide they have made the pillar buttresses from which the
arches spring. This means that the weight of the massive supporting pillars is
carried further away from the wall.
you visit the Selimiye mosque, be sure to contact the English speaking guide,
Mr. Mehmet Koray, who will be pleased to conduct your round; remember, shoes
off, as it is a holy place. You will be shown many mediaeval tombstones that
help to date the church. Noteworthy, is that of Arnati Viconti, I347, and that
of a Florentine merchant of l380. The interior of the mosque has been brightened
up with white, red and yellow candelabra. When the cathedral was converted into
a mosque in 1570, a re-arrangement was made to oriental it towards Mecca and not
Jerusalem. The granite columns of the interior are Roman, probably from Salamis,
and this indicates that there must have been some sort of Byzantine building
here before 1200 A.D.
the south side of the mosque is a Greek church built in the Byzantine and
mediaeval styles. It is called The Bedestan, meaning covered market, and this it
was, until the municipal market moved to buildings on the other side of the
road. The Bedestan i s now preserved as an ancient monument and the interior has
many fallen marble and granite columns, probably Roman, and it shows that the
Bedestan was once a much larger church. Looking around the church, one can still
see the effects of the severe earthquakes of centuries ago. The guide will show
you a vaulted room full of mediaeval tombstones, many having the coats of arms
of crusader knights. The best photograph to take is that of the beautifully
carved Gothic door on the northern side. It is a good ex ample of French
mediaeval stone carving. Quite a mystery is why two such large churches were
built so close together.
The interior of
the mosque/ cathedral.
The two tall minarets of the
Selimiye mosque form a very prominent landmark in Nicosia. Coming down from the
mountains on the Kyrenia road, and just before reaching Gönyeli, one can
pinpoint Nicosia by these twin towers. The next time you fly over Nicosia, you
will hardly notice the mosque, but most conspicuous of all are the Venetian
encircling walls with their eleven polygonal bastions.
W., The Antiquities of Turkish Nicosia, Rustem