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Home - The upper gallery

The upper gallery

 The Hagia Sophia, a virtual experience in space and time, is supposed to be an epitome of Byzantine architecture. With its impressive dome that stands unrivalled to another, and the magnificent decorations that have been bestowed upon it lovingly by its various masters, it is undoubtedly a fact that in spite of the passing of more than fourteen centuries, the magic that the architects of various ages have woven into its construction still remains in all its glory.

Although its origins were quite humble, Hagia Sophia enjoyed a greatly elevated status during the period of the Byzantine rule. Situated in Constantinople, the earlier name for Istanbul, the current building was constructed sometime between 532 AD and 537 AD by Emperor Justinian and was home to a great many relics including a 50 feet silver iconostatis. The Eastern Orthodox Church considered it to be its religious focal point for nearly a thousand years.

When the Ottoman Turks led by Sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople, the Hagia Sophia underwent a total renovation and was ordered to be converted to a mosque by Sultan Mehmed II. Accordingly, all the wonderful decorations that truly befit a Christian church like the bells, the altar, the splendid Iconostasis, and the silver and gold sacrificial vessels were taken apart and the mosaics were completely plastered over.

One of the most striking features of the Hagia Sophia during the Byzantine rule was its magnificent interiors. The entry to the nave was by itself quite a majestic affair, where one was exposed to several descriptive mosaics above the ornamental doors that date back to he 9th century. All the walls and the ceilings of the nave are covered with inlayed marble and mosaics and altogether it brought about a bright and colorful appearance. The series of impressive pillars and columns richly decorated and supportive in nature generally take us back to the ancient times.

The description of the nave is not complete without an account of the magnificent gallery that surrounds it on three sides. A ramp inside the first northern buttress leads to the upper galleries that overlook the nave. The view of the nave becomes all the more splendid from the top making it an exhilarating experience altogether. Certain sections of these galleries were exclusively reserved for the Empress and the other ladies of the court while other parts of the gallery were used for meetings of the Church council. The center of the upper gallery was the domain of the Empress, and was known as the Loge of the Empress. The place where the throne of the Empress stood is marked by a round, green stone. The royal ladies would sit there and watch the proceedings that took place below.

The galleries were richly decorated with mosaics which depicted various religious fables. Some of the best preserved ones can be seen in the southern side of the gallery. The Deesis is one such mosaic, which probably dates back to 1261. Situated in the Imperial enclosure of the upper gallery, it depicts Jesus Christ in the center, and Virgin Mary and John the Baptist on either side, and represents the last Judgment day. In a second panel in the upper gallery, another beautiful mosaic dating to the 11th Century features Christ Pantocrator in a blue robe flanked by Empress Zoe and Constantine Monomachos. Another work of art, the Comnenos mosaic, which features the Blessed Mother with Child Christ in her arms along with Emperor John II Komnenos, Empress Eirene, and their son, Alexius Comnenos is located on the eastern wall of the southern gallery.

A large number of such mosaics are carefully preserved in the upper gallery, which was considered to be the domain of the Empress and the other women of the court. It should also be said that some of the best-preserved mosaics are to be seen in the Southern part of the Upper gallery. . The Hagia Sophia of Istanbul was converted to a museum by none other than its first President, Ataturk, as a tribute to the Republic of Turkey in 1935.

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