Thursday, August 06, 2009

More discoveries at Hagia Sophia

In its nearly 1,700 years, the Byzantine church Hagia Sophia in Istanbul has been harbouring many exciting mysteries, which today are brought to light one by one.

According to the Bulgarian News Agency, a team of Turkish divers and speleologists uncovered some of the underground secrets, kept by the church during the ages. The team's findings, which are featured in a 50-minute documentary, throw light on some of the mysteries buried beneath, while at the same time dispel some of the myths.

The team went down 283 metres and filmed two underground stone-tiled passages. According to one theory, the Byzantine emperor Theodosius II used one of the passages when he wanted to sneak unnoticed to the Hippodrome. The Hippodrome was an arena where races and gladiator fights were held, which is why some call it Istanbul's Colosseum.

In the floor right under the magnificent dome of Hagia Sophia lies the cover of the main water reservoir, which is 12 m deep. The team has found two rooms of 5 sq m each, containing bones and fragments from drinking vessels. The remains are believed to be of Saint Antinegenos, a child saint, who is the only human being buried in Hagia Sophia up until the 13th century and of Patriarch Athanasius, who died in the 15th century and was buried in the church. The two rooms are most likely burial chambers.

Meanwhile, Turkish media report that three more mosaics of angels will soon be uncovered. Turkey's Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Güna was commenting on the recent discovery of a mosaic depicting an angel in the church. “For the first time in my life, I am a part of an endeavor this exciting,” Günay said at a press conference he held at Hagia Sophia, where he added that three more similar mosaics will be uncovered in the future.

“This endeavor made at the northeast quarter of the dome is a very important one for Hagia Sophia and, I believe, for Christian theology,” Günay added. The angel mosaic’s true age will be assessed after an analysis by the Hagia Sofia Science Board compares it to similar mosaics. Its six-winged figure depicts the seraphim, an angel described in the biblical book of Isaiah.

“The last ones to see those [the mosaics] were Sultan Abdülmecid and Fossati the architect. Today, after 160 years, we will announce them to the world. We will let people who visit Istanbul, the 2010 European Capital of Culture, witness them too.”

The minister said he hopes to learn all about Hagia Sophia, preserve the important building and promote it to the world.

Present day Hagia Sophia was built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in 532-537. But even earlier, during the time of Emperor Constanine the Great a church stood on the site. For over 900 years Hagia Sophia was the main church of the Christian world and Turkey's principal mosque for over four centuries. Today, the church, which features on the UNESCO World Heritage List, attracts over 2 million visitors every year.

Please also see our article from last month Mosiac uncovered in Hagia Sophia