It is well known that fragmentary mosaics, never concealed by Islamic plaster or whitewash, still decorate the suite of rooms which lies behind the door at the south end of the west gallery of St. Sophia.' These mosaics were the subject of two brief accounts by the late Paul A. Underwood, published on behalf of the Byzantine Institute, Inc. The first report appeared after a preliminary season of investigation (1950) in the rooms, and the second after conservation, cleaning, and photography was completed in 1954. Underwood also relied on observations made in these rooms when he came to discuss mosaic practices in Constantinople in his final publication of the Kariye Camii. These short presentations by Underwood immediately stimulated art-historical interest. The non-figurative mosaics attributed to the pre-iconoclastic period were used by Professor Ernst Kitzinger as a confirmation that the artists employed by Abd al-Malik to decorate the Dome of the Rock in 691-92 came from Constantinople. The figurative cycle attributed to a date after 843 was used by Professor Andre Grabar as evidence for a topical concern with theophanies in the ninth century in monumental art as well as in manuscript illustration.Meanwhile, a concise description of the mosaics became available in 1962 with the publication of the corpus of mosaics of St. Sophia put together by Professor Cyril Mango. Since he had in an earlier study already proposed an identification for the function of the rooms,' Mango was able to propose on this basis a dating for the various periods of alteration to be observed. The aim of the present report is to assist the study of this area of the church by putting on record for the first time a full description of the mosaics. Our account is arranged according to an interpretation of the history of this part of the church, and an analysis of the structure to which they are attached precedes the discussion of the mosaics. This analysis of the indications of the masonry is necessarily detailed, though only those elements which affect the chronology are treated. We believe that such a chronology based on the material evidence is confirmed and refined by the identification of the rooms as a part of the Patriarchate of the Great Church.
Mosaics Room over the Vestibule Hagia Sophia
Mosaics Room over the Vestibule Hagia SophiaThe investigation in this area of St. Sophia was one of the first operations carried out by Underwood when he took over the direction of fieldwork by the Byzantine Institute on the death of its founder, Thomas Whittemore, in 1950. We were able to observe the mosaics and retake photographs in August 1973, and the present report incorporates the record made by Ernest Hawkins during conservation work between 1950 and 1952, as well as the uncompleted draft text which Underwood began in the 1950's. Since the work undertaken in the 1950's was limited to a consolidation of the mosaics and was not a full structural survey accompanied by a stripping of recent plaster overlays, our interpretations of the masonry evidence must be tentative and incomplete until such an investigation is carried out. In his Draft Report, Underwood recorded the friendly collaboration of the Department of Antiquities and the Museums of the Republic of Turkey and of two Directors of the Aya Sofya Muzesi during his work. In our turn, we can thank the present Director, Bay Hadi Altay, and Bay Sinasi Bagegmez for their help.


The Room Over the Vestibule has lost all traces of its original decoration. Its present mosaics, which survive only in a few fragmentary areas, are the product of a single campaign. A description of their architectural setting was published by Underwood, but needs a brief comment. The two south bays have rebuilt vaults. While these give the same effect of a barrel vault as in the original north bay, they are slightly domed along their ridge, and the bricks are laid in the manner of groin vaults with the groins flattened out. Where these vaults meet the walls a concave lunette is formed on each side of the bay, and the mosaicists took account of these four lunettes in planning the cycle.
Mosaics Room over the Vestibule Hagia Sophia
The south window was remodeled at the same time as the vaults, but the structural antae of the earlier opening were left in position. The new window was apparently modeled on the type found in the west gallery, but the details are now obscured by the Turkish fill of rubble. Probably it consisted of a screen of two orders of superimposed mullions, the spaces in between being filled by glazed grilles and marble balustrades. The two mullions of the upper zone are visible (the right one is rough and cracked), and in the left window a fragment of an oak grille was found with mortices for horizontal and vertical struts. The new window was not aligned with the faces of the antae, but was set back, and the side windows are not of the same size and shape. No continuous horizontal element between the two zones can at present be observed, but perhaps tie beams were used. From the lower zones the marble plaques are preserved as the frames of the rectangular Turkish windows, and a part of the capital of the right mullion can be seen in the fill. The plaques match those in the Room Over the Ramp (both sets, for example, have a similar decoration of a cross in relief); presumably those here were taken from the original south opening, set aside, and reused. The capital in the fill, about 64 cm. in width, below an abacus of 75 cm., appears to be of a fifth- century Corinthian type. It, too, must be a reused element, though because it differs from the capital in the Room Over the Ramp it is difficult to say where it was first used. It must be said that the remodeling of the south window lacks finesse.Mosaics Room over the Vestibule Hagia SophiaMosaics Room over the Vestibule Hagia Sophia
All the vaults received mosaic decoration, but none of it remains in the north bay, where only the traces of the spud work of the first layer of plaster confirm the previous existence of mosaic work here also. The scheme of the other two vault bays can be recognized; on each side of a border running along the axis of the Room two superimposed registers of figures were set out-full-length standing figures above, and bust figures below. The eastern and western sides of the vaults are therefore decorated in two symmetrical halves. On the north tympanum, over the door which is the entrance from the Room into the west gallery of St. Sophia, is a semicircular lunette panel.

The composition here was the "Deesis," with the Virgin and John the Baptist on either side of an enthroned Christ. The mosaics are described below in hierarchical order of their iconography, southward from the door, to conform with the preliminary account of Underwood, but we shall not use his lettering for the various patches of mosaic.


Mosaics Room over the Vestibule Hagia SophiaThe Room Over the Vestibule was decorated in its two southern bays with representations in the lower zone of the twelve Apostles and four Patriarchs of Constantinople; the upper zone seems to have the space for about twenty standing figures. The inclusion of St. Methodios in the cycle dates its execution after his death in 847. The scheme might seem to be a typical example of the manner of representing the Heavenly Cosmos through portraits of saints, which has been claimed to be characteristic of the art of the second half of the ninth century. It can be doubted, however, whether this is a well-founded characterization - the evidence for it is meager: literary descriptions of churches, now lost and of unknown size, may not give full details of the decoration. St. Sophia is a special case and the church of the Holy Apostles does not seem to conform. Moreover, the cycle of the Room Over the Vestibule is not strictly a church decoration, so the nature of its program is not a sure guide to its dating. The perennial theme of decorations in the Patriarchal Palace was the representation of Orthodoxy. John III Scholasticus, Eutychios, and Nicetas have already been mentioned as patriarchs who used art to proclaim their theological beliefs. The Russian pilgrim Antony of Novgorod records that around 1200 portraits of all the patriarchs and emperors, accompanied by an indication whether they were orthodox or heretical, were displayed in St. Sophia. While the meaning in this passage is possibly "in the gallery," Antony elsewhere uses the noun indiscriminately to refer to the gallery or to the Patriarchal Palace. Grabarhas speculated that the patriarchs may have maintained a picture gallery of their predecessors in their Palace. In the case of our cycle, its underlying theme is most likely to be the portrayal of the orthodox theology of its sponsor. If anywhere in Byzantine religious art, a decoration in the Patriarchal Palace ought to exemplify the way in which topical reasoning could be translated into a general frame of reference.
Mosaics Room over the Vestibule Hagia Sophia
The inclusion of the four patriarchs intimately involved in fighting the iconoclastic heresy must be significant for dating the Room. It is true that the four appear as a separate group in the diptychs of the Synodikon of Orthodoxy, which were recited annually from the ninth century onward,109 but their selection and prominence in the decoration must have some topical significance and can only indicate an active concern with Iconoclasm on the part of the planner of the mosaics. For how long after the death of Methodios was Iconoclasm a live issue in the Patriarchal Palace? In a recent examination of this question, Mango has suggested an almost obsessive concern with Iconoclasm by Photios during his first period in office as patriarch (858-67), at a time when the threat of its renewal must already have passed.n0 On the basis of this view, the early 860's are a likely time for the mosaics of the Room Over the Vestibule. The dismissal of Photios in 867 did not, however, banish the issue of Iconoclasm from the Patriarchate. The Fourth Council of Constantinople in 869/70 reveals some concern with Iconoclasm on the part of Ignatios, even if it was not at the top of the agenda as at the Photian Council of 861. In the second part of the eighth session (November 869) the subject was the problem of the recalcitrant iconoclast, Theodore Krithinos, and his partisans. Krithinos, who was a former archbishop of Syracuse, refused to compromise and was condemned, but some of his partisans, Nicetas, Theophilos, and Theophanes, agreed to make a confession of their mistakes in front of the delegates. The session ended with the pronouncement of eighteen anathemas against iconoclasts. When the canons were drawn up on 28 February 870, the third was directed against Iconoclasm. It included a novel formulation that icons are justified since without them a Christian soul would be in danger of being unable to recognize his God."' By 879 the intellectual climate was such that the canons of the Photian Council only repeated the earlier formulations, while for Arethas interest in Iconoclasm was academic.
Mosaics Room over the Vestibule Hagia Sophia
The implication of the program is, therefore, a dating within a fairly short period in the ninth century, not earlier than 847 and not later than the 870's. Such a date would also limit the sponsoring Patriarch to one of two candidates, either Ignatios or Photios. The question might therefore be approached through an investigation of the mentality and artistic patronage of these well documented figures;1 but for the present we shall consider the issue through the art historical evidence. The dating bracket proposed on the basis of the program is harmonious with the style. Underwood attributed the mosaics to the second half of the ninth century, while Mango and Hawkins have gone on record with the suggestion of the 850's or 860's.
Mosaics Room over the Vestibule Hagia Sophia
Comparisons with other ninth-century mosaics help to clarify the stylistic trend of the homogeneous cycle of the Room Over the Ramp. There is little point of contact with the techniques and coloring used by the mosaicists who replaced the sanctuary figures of the church of the Koimesis at Nicaea. A comparison with the cupola mosaics of the church of St. Sophia in Thessaloniki, which can be attributed to 885, produces quite positive results.  Certain workshop methods of modeling used in the Room Over the Vestibule can be recognized in Thessaloniki, but in a more extreme and mannered form. Thus, the pear shapes in the drapery over the knees of Christ and the Virgin or the hanging zigzag folds of the Virgin's maphorion have become more emphatic, more schematic, altogether more dominant elements at Thessaloniki - signs of a relatively later date of execution. The mask-like face and the pattern of the drapery of the standing Virgin at Thessaloniki owes a distinct debt to our Virgin of the Deesis. To devote further attention to the developments in color and line, through which the impressive impact of the later cupola figures is made on the spectator with a different effect from the more intimate groups of the Room Over the Vestibule, is unnecessary for the present purpose of the comparison. The cupola at Thessaloniki is a part of the cathedral church of the city, and was commissioned by archbishop Paul, a personal supporter of Photios appointed in 880. His mosaicists, who must have been trained in Constantinople, had perhaps previously been employed by the Patriarch.

Although the comparison with Thessaloniki might be taken to point to a date not too much before 885, the means to a more precise decision is offered by stylistic parallels in certain mosaics of St. Sophia itself, and in manuscripts produced in the orbit of the Great Church. 7 The second half of the ninth century was a period offering fairly permanent employment for artists in Constantinople, and one would expect to find a variety of styles in the works which survive. The most specific comparison with the Room Over the Vestibule is the tympanum mosaics of the naos; in particular, the massive treatment of figures (consider Christ and St. Simon Zelotes), the modeling of some garments in light-colored stone tesserae with folds in dark lines (often the lines are short and terminate in hooks), the fairly loose disposition of tesserae, and the use of greens for shadowing flesh. The way in which such features were treated in the north tympanum mosaics seemed to Mango and Hawkins to belong to the last two decades of the ninth century, being shared to some extent by the narthex panel and the Alexander mosaic of the north gallery. In their estimation, the mosaics of the Room Over the Vestibule belonged to an earlier stage, at a cruder level of achievement, with relatively clumsy figures too heavily outlined, and with too abrupt transitions from light to shade. They therefore proposed a date earlier than or contemporary with the sanctuary vault mosaics of St. Sophia, and saw their interest to lie in the existence of a different "style" coexisting with that of the apse.
Mosaics Room over the Vestibule Hagia Sophia
If the mosaics of the Room Over the Vestibule are treated as a part of the total ninth-century scheme of St. Sophia, this assessment of Mango and Hawkins might be modified in the light of our description. Can these mosaics be earlier than the apse of St. Sophia? When Photios inaugurated the present apse mosaics on 29 March 867, he proclaimed the church stripped of decoration. Even allowing for the hyperbole permitted on a state occasion, it is difficult to account for his words if the Room Over the Vestibule had recently been redecorated with a figurative cycle. If the assumption is made that at the time of the homily the Patriarchal rooms lacked this cycle, then the rhetoric of Photios becomes more credible, and, moreover, it can be presumed that his reference to the visual mysteries of the church being scraped off had a specific source in the documentary reports of the iconoclasm of Nicetas in the Patriarchal Palace.

The relevance of the cycle of the Room Over the Vestibule to the planning of the tympana also needs comment. Mango and Hawkins correctly state that the choice of the bishops shows no special emphasis on the suppression of Iconoclasm, but from this they infer that, at the time of planning, Iconoclasm had lost much of its urgency. An alternative explanation is that our cycle was close in time, but earlier, and so it was thought otiose to repeat its message in the naos. On this line of reasoning the date proposed for the tympana might be a little too late, and these mosaics may belong to the late 870's. The execution of the lowest register must date after the death of Ignatios in 877, but, if the redecoration of the tympana was indeed made necessary by the earthquake of 869, as argued by Mainstone, then it might have been planned in the 870's.

The decoration of the Room Over the Vestibule is conceivable as an integral part of a scheme in St. Sophia developed in the decade after 867. A date fairly close to that of the Church Fathers of the north tympanum is likely, for the differences between the two groups should not be overstressed. Photo- graphs of the mosaics of the Room Over the Vestibule exaggerate the harsh- ness of the modeling and of the transitions from light to shadow. In reality, these two sets of mosaics are closer to each other than either is to the narthex panel. No greater contrast in the treatment of heads occurs in the Macedonian period mosaics of St. Sophia than between the relatively soft modeling of Christ in the Room Over the Vestibule and the broad manner of the narthex Christ, where the face is built up on contrasts in groups of colored tesserae. The major difference between the Room Over the Vestibule and the tympana is in the handling of color. In extreme contrast to the limited range of colors of the generally pale and opaque tonality of the Church Fathers, the earlier figures fill with glittering pools of color a room which must have always been fairly dark and frequently lit by candles. This interest in color relates the Room to the apse mosaics of St. Sophia, and it also influenced the later cupola mosaics of St. Sophia in Thessaloniki.

The mosaics of the Room Over the Vestibule are best regarded as a stylistic bridge between the apse and tympana of St. Sophia rather than as a separate mode. The most significant difference is not in style so much as in quality. The striking homogeneity of the mosaics in the Room is confirmation that they belong to a single campaign of work, but there is another side to this conformity. The work is vigorous, yet somehow stereotyped and routine in its production. Such a judgment of its quality assists in a comparison of the Virgin of the Deesis with the Virgin in the apse. They differ in scale and position, but in the faces the modeling and color and treatment of the flow of the tesserae are similar. This can more easily be recognized when allowance is made for the weakness of the mosaicist of the Deesis. Of course, it is not surprising to see such refinement and power in the apse, which represents one of the most important commissions of the Middle Ages.

Certain historical conditions are relevant to a dating of the mosaics of the Room Over the Vestibule, if a time after March 867 is to be upheld. Photios, in the seventeenth Homily delivered on 29 March 867, concluded with an appeal to the two Emperors for their patronage of further figurative art in St. Sophia. The political and ecclesiastical intrigues of that summer can hardly have been conducive to the arrangement of such works. The last week of September saw the assassination of Michael III (23-24 September) and the removal of Photios (25 September). The recall of Ignatios did not immediately terminate the protracted communications with the Papal court. Then, from 9 January 869, St. Sophia suffered earthquake damage for forty days, which was sufficient to induce Basil I to provide funds for repairs. However, the sessions of the Fourth Council could have been held in the south gallery of St. Sophia from October 869 to February 870. The 870's were years of relative calm, with more opportunity for artistic patronage. It was a decade of high density of mosaic production, during which the major documented commissions were SS. Sergios and Bacchos, the Virgin of Pege, and the Holy Apostles, and the Nea Church of Basil I; the situation might even be taken to support statistically the higher probability of the execution of our mosaics in the 870's. Possible indications of date are offered by the internal evidence of the mosaics themselves. Two points of detail in the iconography deserve highlighting. The first is the portrait of St. Constantine, which should be contrasted with his representation in the lunette panel in the vestibule below. The differences are not limited to style; the iconographic type is different, our mosaic being distinguished by the dark bushy beard. The use of two types ought to correspond to a difference of intention. The meaning of the vestibule panel lies in its public claim of protection offered to city and church by the Virgin and Child. For this context Constantine appears more as a type of the young heroic saint than as an emperor. In the Room Over the Vestibule Constantine takes on the appearance of a contemporary Byzantine emperor and, moreover, bears a striking resemblance to a member of the family.

Excerpts From The Mosaics of St. Sophia at Istanbul: The Rooms above the Southwest Vestibule and Ramp - Robin Cormack and Ernest J. W. Hawkins

Bob Atchison


The Nave Columns of Hagia Sophia

The capitals are carved in marble from the Proconnesus island in the sea of Marmara, near to Constantinople.  In fact Marmara means Marble in Greece.  Hence the sea was called the Marble Sea. The stone quarries of the island were exploited on an industrial scale during the early Byzantine era producing thousands of carved elements a year for building projects around the Sea of Marmara, in Greece and Asia Minor. Once can still see the capitals in various states of carving around the island that have been there for 1500 years or more. During the long period the quarry was exploited in Byzantine times work teams made marble elements for all sorts of things - like stone windows, staircases, columns and basins. Some items were finished and shipped ready to use; others were roughed out and sent to the building site to be completed on site. The capitals and marble elements of Hagia Sophia are huge,  They must have required extensive finishing on the building site.

Capital in Hagia SophiaThe capitals have monogram of the Emperor Justinian on them. We know the capitals were painted blue and gilded in the reign of the Emperor Romanos.  Paint still remains in the deepest parts of the carving on some or all of the capitals.

The columns are made of what the medieval Italians called Verde Antico, "Antique Green"; in Roman times the stone was called marmore Thessalonium, because it comes from quarries near the city of Atrax in Thessaly, Greece.. There are 4 dozen of these 56 ft tall columns in Hagia Sophia. The grey green stone is a breccio-conglomerate of serpentine, schist and marble.

In later times there was a legend the columns were brought from older Roman sites in Ephesos.  People could not believe that such huge columns could have been made in Justinian's reign, however they were ready made for the cathedral.  The columns are quite irregular on their surface. You can easily see this when you feel the columns with your hands. The marble also has a waxy feel to it, which is a characteristic of the serpentine in them.

columns in Hagia SophiaHagia Sophia Marble ColumnThe column above is carved from Proconnesus marble. Below is a column made of Imperial porphyry from Gebel Dokhan in the Eastern desert of Egypt. The purple color in this extremely hard stone comes from hematite. Although the stone is very dense it can fracture under stress. Many of the porphyry columns in Hagia Sophia show visible cracks and have been reinforced with bronze collars.

Porphyry Column from the nave of Hagia SophiaPorphyry column from Hagia Sophia with a bronze collarporphyry column from Hagia Sophia