Mark Twain's Account of Visiting
St Sophia in Constantinople

St Sophia in what was then Constantinople, now called Mark Twain.

Mark Twain is not a member of the Mark Anderson family...but we sort of claim him since he lived in Muscatine where we do, here on the Mississippi River in Iowa. He lived here for only a few months as an 18 year old and worked for his brother who owned the Muscatine Journal at the time. Mark Twain (then called Samuel Clemens) also wrote some short stories for our local paper using pen names, of course, but we don't know which pen names he used and lots of folks wrote stories back then.

Mark Twain American Writer Born: Samuel Langhorne Clemens
Mark Twain American Writer Born: Samuel Langhorne ClemensGiclee Print
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In this case St Sophia of Constantinople. The city is now called Istanbul and the St Sophia is no longer a mosque but a museum. As recorded in "Innocents Abroad".

Mark Twain's Visit to St Sophia

Fountain and Square of St. Sophia Istanbul
Fountain and Square of St. Sophia IstanbulGiclee Print
Bartlett, William...
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The Mosque of St Sophia is the chief lion of Constantinople. You mustget a firman and hurry there the first thing. We did that. We did notget a firman, but we took along four or five francs apiece, which is muchthe same thing.

I do not think much of the Mosque of St Sophia. I suppose I lackappreciation. We will let it go at that. It is the rustiest old barn inheathendom. I believe all the interest that attaches to it comes fromthe fact that it was built for a Christian church and then turned into amosque, without much alteration, by the Mohammedan conquerors of theland. They made me take off my boots and walk into the place in mystocking-feet. I caught cold, and got myself so stuck up with acomplication of gums, slime and general corruption, that I wore out morethan two thousand pair of boot-jacks getting my boots off that night, andeven then some Christian hide peeled off with them. I abate not a singleboot-jack.

St Sophia is a colossal church, thirteen or fourteen hundred years old,and unsightly enough to be very, very much older. Its immense dome issaid to be more wonderful than St Peter's, but its dirt is much morewonderful than its dome, though they never mention it. The church has ahundred and seventy pillars in it, each a single piece, and all of costlymarbles of various kinds, but they came from ancient temples at Baalbec,Heliopolis, Athens and Ephesus, and are battered, ugly and repulsive.They were a thousand years old when this church was new, and then thecontrast must have been ghastly--if Justinian's architects did not trimthem any. The inside of the dome is figured all over with a monstrousinscription in Turkish characters, wrought in gold mosaic, that looks asglaring as a circus bill; the pavements and the marble balustrades areall battered and dirty; the perspective is marred every where by a web ofropes that depend from the dizzy height of the dome, and suspendcountless dingy, coarse oil lamps, and ostrich-eggs, six or seven feetabove the floor. Squatting and sitting in groups, here and there and farand near, were ragged Turks reading books, hearing sermons, or receivinglessons like children. and in fifty places were more of the same sortbowing and straightening up, bowing again and getting down to kiss theearth, muttering prayers the while, and keeping up their gymnastics tillthey ought to have been tired, if they were not.

Emperor Justinian I (483-565) Dedicating St. Sophia to the Virgin and Child
Emperor Justinian I (483-565) Dedicating St. Sophia to the Virgin and ChildGiclee Print
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Every where was dirt, and dust, and dinginess, and gloom; every wherewere signs of a hoary antiquity, but with nothing touching or beautifulabout it; every where were those groups of fantastic pagans; overhead thegaudy mosaics and the web of lamp-ropes--nowhere was there any thing towin one's love or challenge his admiration.

The people who go into ecstasies over St Sophia must surely get them outof the guide-book (where every church is spoken of as being "consideredby good judges to be the most marvelous structure, in many respects, thatthe world has ever seen.") Or else they are those old connoisseurs fromthe wilds of New Jersey who laboriously learn the difference between afresco and a fire-plug and from that day forward feel privileged to voidtheir critical bathos on painting, sculpture and architecture forevermore.

Go to Main Mark Twain page after his take on St Sophia.
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