Ataturk put the beauty of the Hagia Sophia on exhibition for the world to see, but in 2020, Erdogan re-purposed the space to display Islam. As a result, a visit hides multiple Christian sacred items once displayed for touring. This write-up will detail the hidden Christianity that the Hagia Sophia now shuns.
Your visit to the Hagia Sophia will give you an Islamic presentation with the Muslim wooden Arabic panels, an atmosphere of Quranic chanting, and limited visitor time because of prayers. Having visited the former Hagia Sophia Museum, I know what Christian elements I saw before that now the Mosque hides.
Main Sanctuary Hagia Sophia
On the Ground floor, depending on the time of day, the golden mosaic of a throned Mary with the infant Jesus lies in the center of the sanctuary’s Apse. The 9th-century depiction marks the success of Icons back into Byzantine churches after the Iconoclasm period of breaking icons.https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/icon/hd_icon.htm Also, this period found the church consumed with the veneration of the Virgin Mary by placing her on a throne with an infant Jesus.
To accommodate Islamic prayers, the beautiful marble floor is now hidden. The white marble reflected light and marked various places where archeology research occurred below the surface. This balcony picture shows where the Byzantine queens sat/stood for worship. Again, the marble reflected light, which now absorbs into the rugs, creating a darker ambiance.
Missed-Finds on the Balcony Level
Items missed on the Balcony – The most exciting thing about a visit to the Hagia Sophia was the view from the balcony. Previously, a tourist enjoyed this level more than the lower one. First, the northwest ramp displayed the 6th-century workers’ route to the masterpiece of views. Then, the upper elevation provided a glimpse of the marvelous work on the upper pillars, intricate designs on the arches, and lovely displays of color, which one from below cannot see because of the distance and darkness of the interior.
The upper westside hallway heading toward the office of the Patriarch showcases cross-filled archways of immaculate beauty. This area hosted the queen and later Byzantine centuries, the women’s section for worship. Specific areas of the marble floor provoke thought on their use.see this excellent write-up concerning this area. https://www.pallasweb.com/deesis/west-gallery-of-hagia-sophia.html Crosses surround this area on the upper wooden beams and the marble wall barriers. Initially, the corridor view had large crosses on each end. Those offended by the cross desecrated any cross within reach.
On the upper southern side, the marble door granted entry to the area of multiple synods. These doors displayed crosses and biblical imagery, which many since have been destroyed. (The pic only shows one of two sections plus an entryway.) This marble wall doorway lies near the entrance to the Patriarch’s office (which previously was never on display).
The three figures of the Virgin Mary, the Lord Jesus, and John the Baptist embody the centrality of Christ. He is the Word of God and holds the Bible in his left hand. Unfortunately, pilgrims vandalized this mosaic by seeking a piece of these small colored stones. Those seeking a spiritual part to take entirely harvested the lower level in previous centuries. The restored mosaics illustrate some of the beauty and wonder.
The balcony barrier consisting of marble slaps along with wooden railings signifies the spiritual and physical protection of the worshipers. Again non-believers removed many, if not all, of the crosses, from these marble slaps. The crosses of Hagia Sophia, despite hundreds sanded, chipped, and defiled by the offended hand, continue to mark the interior and exterior sanctuary.
Also, the graffiti of the Vikings on the surface of one balcony railing is no longer available for showing.
The Byzantine Empire John Komnenos II and his wife (Irene, not depicted in pic) symbolize an offered donation. This mosaic sits upon the far eastern wall. Also not displayed is the slight sinking of this corner wall area which becomes apparent in this balcony section with a slightly sloping floor.
Thanks to Dan Brown’s Inferno, the existence of the Latin invader’s grave, Enrico Dandolo, has become popular. Yet in the film starring Tom Hank, they mistakenly place the grave on the ground level of the ancient church, most likely not to highlight the location. However, the marker remains in the southern balcony area with a floor-level simple stone. The grave has a desecrated cross on the surface, but his name remains in Latin script.https://hagiasophiaturkey.com/tomb-enrico-dandolo/
Lower Level Finds near Exit
The most significant loss is the closure of the Baptism room just past the exit hallway. This room was only sometimes open to the public, even previously when a museum. Haluk Çetinkaya said in his excellent historical account, said, “The huge baptism pool made from a single slab of marble which is the largest baptism pool in Turkey, and possibly one of [the] largest in the world is situated outside the baptistery.”https://istanbultarihi.ist/690-hagia-sophia After visiting this site many years ago, I placed this on my screen saver pics. One day, I noticed that the shape of the baptismal marble is a fish design. In the Hagia Sophia, a few fish designs can be found in marble or on the painted walls. The fish symbol, one of secrecy when Christian persecution existed in the region, now they could identify openly in baptism to Christ’s death and resurrection.
A visit to the Hagia Sophia demands an online visit to see what you missed. In times past, this beautiful building allowed a fuller historic Christian picture, but now a dominating exterior display of Islam shuns displaying these sacred items. To not lose the rich Christian history at Hagia Sophia, share this information so visitors will realize how God worked through the inhabitants of this great city to demonstrate His sovereignty and love.
If going on to Ephesus on tour, look at Hidden Crosses in Ephesus.
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