Brief history,

"The Hagia Sophia enjoyed the status as the largest cathedral in the world for almost a thousand years after it was built, til 1850"
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Home - Mosaics


Hagia Sophia, the epitome of Byzantine architecture, occupies a prominent place in the history of Istanbul. One of the rare wonders that have survived the ravages of time, the Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya as known in Turkish, was the largest cathedral in the world for around a thousand years after it was constructed.

A popular landmark of the Byzantine rule, the Hagia Sophia, was constructed as a magnificent church during the reign of Justinian. The Emperor spared no expenses for the construction and the result was apparent in its fantastic architecture. Huge slabs and pillars of marble from earlier eras were taken apart from various places and shipped to Istanbul for this ambitious project. The interior of the great church was spell bounding in magnificence. This imperial structure truly reflects the splendor and glory of the Byzantine era.

A description of the interiors of the beautiful cathedral is incomplete without the mention of its mosaics which were added throughout the centuries. They depicted various religious figures like the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, Saints, Emperors and Empresses. Some of the mosaics worthy of mention are The Imperial Gate Mosaic, The Apse Mosaic, The Southwest entrance mosaic, etc.

The Imperial Gate Mosaic, located in the tympanum above the grand entrance, depicts an emperor with a nimbus, who is bowing down before Christ Pantocrator who is seated on an embellished throne. In the mosaic, Christ is seen giving His blessings with his right hand and holding an open book in his left hand, which reads "Peace be with you. I am the light of the world". There is a round pendant on either side of Christ's shoulders. The mosaic also shows Archangel Gabriel to the left of Christ and the Virgin Mary to the right. This mural is very significant of the eternal influence of Christ over the Byzantine rulers.

Another marvelous mosaic situated in the tympanum of the southwestern entrance is that of the Virgin Mary sitting on a backless throne with Christ on her lap. Her feet rest on top of a pedestal decorated with precious stones. The child Christ gives his blessings while holding out a scroll in his left hand and to the left of the blessed mother stands Emperor Constantine who gifts the model of the city to her. There is an inscription next to the emperor which says "Great emperor Constantine Om the Saints". Emperor Justinian stands to the right side of the Virgin, offering her a model of the Hagia Sophia.

The Apse mosaic is situated on the top of the half dome of the apse and again features the Blessed Mother with her feet on a bejeweled pedestal, with baby Christ on her lap, against a golden background.

Several magnificent mosaics are also found in the Upper Gallery, which happened to be the forte of the Empress and the other court ladies, who assembled there to watch the proceedings of the court below. The Emperor Alexander mosaic pictures the Emperor in full regalia, with a skull in his left hand. Another impressive mosaic found there is the Empress Zoe mosaic which features Christ Pantocrator in a blue robe, holding a Bible in his left hand. On either of his sides are the Emperor Constantine IX and Empress Zoe, holding a purse and a scroll respectively with inscriptions.

The Mosaic of the Comnenos depicting the Virgin Mary, Baby Christ, Emperor John II Komnenos, Empress Eirene, and their eldest son Alexius Comnenos is seen on the eastern wall of the Southern gallery. Another mosaic that is supposed to be one of the finest, is found on the imperial enclosure of the upper gallery is the Deesis Mosaic, which marked the return of the Orthodox faith. In this mosaic, Virgin Mary and John the Baptist are requesting the intercession of Christ Pantocrator for humanity on the Judgment Day. Another remarkable mosaic found in the Hagia Sophia is the Northern Tympanon Mosaic, featuring various saints like Saint John Chrysostom and Ignatius the Younger in white robes and holding Bibles.

From the 1930s, restoration work of the mosaics is being carried out by a team from the American Byzantine Institute. Restorers are striving to maintain a delicate balance between the Islamic and Christian cultures. But most of the important mosaics have been given back their erstwhile glory.

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