Incredible Mosaics Of Hagia Sophia


Hagia Sophia Mosaics

Hagia Sophia is one of the most important structures in history. Built by Byzantine Emperor in 537, it served for 900 years as a church and 500 years as a mosque.

Both Byzantine Emperors and Ottoman Sultans showed the utmost attention to it. As a matter of fact, Hagia Sophia was the most important church of the capital Constantinople during Byzantine period. It was a protocol mosque cared extensively by the sultans.

It was believed during Byzantine period that Seraphim angels, pictured on sides of Hagia Sophia’s dome, were protecting the city. According to city legends, Contantinople, which was occupied many times during its 1000 years old history, never fell thanks to these angels. Due to the belief that Hagia Sophia is a holy building, four Ottoman Sultans requested that they be buried under its garden upon their death. Mausoleums are located today at the courtyard.

Hagia Sophia’s Welcoming Entrance
Where Is Hagia Sophia Located?

Incredible Hagia Sophia © Photo: Serhat Engül

Hagia Sophia mosaics were commissioned by different Byzantine Emperors during the 9th and 13th Centuries. Ottomans additions date back to 15th and 19th Centuries.

Today’s Hagia Sophia has been serving as a museum for 85 years. Thanks to this fact, it is possible to see traces of both Abrahamic religions at the same time. Just like La Mezquita Church in Cordoba in Spain, Hagia Sophia carries the traces of both cultures.

Mosaics were not destroyed by Ottomans but covered when the city was occupied by them. Therefore, when Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum, they were uncovered so that visitors would enjoy them.

In this article, we will analyse the most important mosaics of Hagia Sophia.

Amazing Architecture Of Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia Architecture

Mosaics on the Entrance Floor

Mosaic Of Emperor Leon VI Of Byzantine Empire

Emperor Leon IV on the top of the Imperial Gate. © Serhat Engul

Leon VI on Top of Imperial Gate

The Pantakrator mosaic decorated with a Jesus figure, located on the top of the Imperial Gate shows Jesus sanctifying with his right hand and carryinga bible with his left hand. The following Greek words are written on the Bible: ‘May Peace Be with You. I Am the Divine Light’. The right medallion has Archangel Gabriel figure while the left medallion has Mother Mary. Below the feet of Christ is Emperor Leon VI of Byzantine Empire who has prayer position. The mosaic dates back to the 9th century.

Off the Record History of this Mosaic

According to rumors about this mosaic, Emperor Leon is an unlucky man. He married three times and his wives died due to some sicknesses. When he wanted to marry fourth time, he was met with opposition by Byzantine Church. In order to gain Church’s favor, he made a big donation. To immortalize this donation, this mosaic is placed on top of Imperial Gate. Leon married again.

Mosaic Of Virgin Mary And Jesus

Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ Mosaic © Serhat Engul

Mariam and Jesus in Apsis

The figure of Virgin Mary (Theotokos) as seated on a throne with jeweled cushions, holding baby Jesus in the center of the quarter dome. This mosaic is an important one because it is the first figured mosaic created after the iconoclasm period of Hagia Sophia. The mosaic is the oldest mosaic in Hagia Sophia, dating back to the 9th century.

Mosaic Of Byzantine Emperor Justinian And Roman Emperor Constantine In Hagia Sophia

Emperor Constantine The Great and Justinian Mosaic © Serhat Engul

Justinian and Constantine on Top of Exit Door

Hagia Sophia’s most prominent figured mosaicsare located in the inner narthex, on the Southern vestibule door. This mosaic was found while the repair process was going on which was held by Fossati in 1849. The base of the symmetrical mosaic panel is comprised of gold leafs, and shows Virgin Mary on a backless throne with the words METER and THEOU, which is an abbreviation saying ‘God Bearer’, engraved on both sides. Baby Jesus can be seen on Mary’s lap. The creator of the city, Emperor Constantine I, holding a maquette representative of İstanbul, is on her left. To the right of Mary is Emperor Justinian giving them with a model of Hagia Sophia. The mosaic panel dates back to the 10th century.

Mosaics on the Second Floor

World Famous Deesis Mosaic Of Hagia Sophia

Deesis Mosaic Of Hagia Sophia © Serhat Engul

Deesis Mosaic

Deesis stage, which is regarded as the start of renaissance in Byzantine painting, is located on the western wall of Northern Gallery. John the Baptist on the right side and Virgin Mary on the left side and Jesus Christ in the middle can be seen in the portrayal. It describes the prayer of Virgin Mary and John the Baptist to Jesus Christ for the mercy of people during the Last Judgement. All three figures have the characteristics of Hellenistic Era portrayal art.

Dynamism and choices of color make the piece a truly successful one. It is one of the best pieces in which the main principles of ancient Byzantine era art are reflected. The mosaic dates back to the 13th Century.

Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos And Empress Zoe Mosaic

Contantine Monomakhos and Empress Zoe © Serhat Engul

Konstantin and Zoe

Emperor IX. Konstantinos Monomakhos (1042-1055) and Empress Zoe are included in the mosaic board. The inscriptionover Empress’s head states: “Devoutly Religious Agusta Zoe”. On both sides of Jesus, there are the initials of Jesus Christ IC and XC monograms. This mosaic board symbolizes the donations made by the emperor’s family in order to restore Hagia Sophia. It dates back to 11th century.

Off the Record History of This Mosaic

Empress Zoe was the only heir after the death of her father. The person she would marry would become the emperor. She married a man (Romanus III) deemed suitable by the officials of the state. However, she fell in love with someone else. Her first husband died mysteriously after slipping in the bathroom Therefore Zoe was able to marry the man (Michael IV) she fell in love with.

But her second husband died as well due to a deadly disease. Then she married a handsome bureaucrat Konstantin Monomakhos. Yet Konstantin had a mistress. When Konstantin gained power, he shaved Zoe’s hair and kept her in a dungeon.

Mosaic was made in the honor of Zoe’s first marriage. When the emperor changed, face of the man in the mosaic was scraped and changed with Konstantin’s face. Like modern day photoshop 🙂

Emperor John Komnenos And Empress Irene Mosaic

John Komnenos and Empress Irene © Serhat Engul

Komnenos Family

Emperor John Komnenos, his Hungarian origin Eirene and their son Aleksios are depicted in the mosaic. One can see in the middle of the depiction Virgin Mary standing in her arms with Jesus Christ. There is a writing around Emperor’s head, saying “Born in porphyry salon”, which is an indication of loyalty of his father’s reign.Empress Eirene was the daughter of Hungarian King Laszlo and she was depicted as typical Middle European with braided ginger hair, colored eyes, white skinned and ruddy cheeks. Prince Aleksios, who died at a young age from illness, can also be seen on the board.

One can see in the mosaic the prince’s pale face due to his sickness. This mosaic board symbolizes the donations made by the emperor’s family to restore Hagia Sophia. It dates back to 12th century.

Photos taken by the author. All Rights Reserved.

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By Official Tour Guide Serhat

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