Mosaics of Hagia Sophia

Reconstruction of Hagia SophiaDear Readers:

I hope you will enjoy this extensive library I have created on the mosaics of Hagia Sophia.  The survival of the mosaics is something of a miracle.  Earthquakes, iconoclasm, religious extremism have threatened them in the past - indeed some would say the mosaics NOW hang by a thread.  Like the buddhas of Bamiyan the mosaics represent something foreign and dangerous to the zealots who would destroy them today in the name of religion. Over and over again Turkish nationalists have threatened to turn Hagia Sophia from a museum back into a mosque.  Tens of thousands - huge mobs - have gathered outside Hagia Sophia with the intention of storming it. They see Hagia Sophia as a trophy - a symbol of the Turkish Conquest that must be prayed in -  to demonstrate to the rest of the world that Islam has triumphed - and still triumphs - over Christianity. It has been quoted the the spokesman for the Islamic group says they want to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque again "So that Aya Sophia can smile once more" .  I have no idea what that means.  Smile?


Virgin and Child from the Apse of Hagia Sophia

Enthroned Virgin and Child from the Apse Semidome

The first figural mosaic to decorate Hagia Sophia after the end of Iconoclasm by Patriarch Photius in 867.

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The John and Irene Mosaic from Hagia Sophia

John Comnenus - Eirene - their son Alexios - the Theotokos - Christ

This mosaic was created in 1122 and shows the Emperor John Comnenus, his wife Eirene, their son Alexios with the Virgin Mary and Christ.

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Empress Zoe Mosaic Hagia Sophia

Constantine Monomachos - Augusta Zoe - Christ

This mosaic shows Emperor Constantine Monomachos and his wife the Augusta Zoe on either side of an enthroned Christ Pantokrator.

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Mosaic from the Narthex of Hagia Sophia

Constantine - Justinian - the Theotokos - Christ from the Vestibule

High above the entrance to the inner narthex is a mosaic of Constantine and Justinian on either side of an enthroned Virgin Mary with Christ.

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Leo mosaic from the narthex of Hagia Sophia

Leo VI - the Theotokos - Archangel Michael - Christ

Leo VI placed a mosaic of himself, the Virgin, the Archangel Michael and Christ over the Imperial Doors.

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Seraphim from Hagia Sophia

The Holy Seraphim

The star covering the face of the Seraphim was recently removed and it was seen for the first time since 1848.

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Archangel from the Bema Arch

Archangel Gabriel from the Bema Arch

At the same time the Virgin and Child was place in the apse two archangels were added to the bema vault; one survives.

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Emperor Alexander from Hagia Sophia

Emperor Alexander from the Gallery

Emperor Alexander was co-emperor with his brother Constantine VII.  This mosaic is hidden away in the South Gallery.

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Patriarch John Chrysostom mosaic from Hagia Sophia

Church Fathers in the Great Tympana

There are three well preserved bishops in the north tympanon; they date from the late ninth century.

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mosaic from Hagia Sophia

Mosaics from the Room over the Vestibule

Hidden from the public, these mysterious mosaics are just a few feet away from thousands of tourists who know nothing about them.

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Meet Bob Atchison - the Creator of this Website

I am an icon painter, Russian Historian and Austin Web Designer formerly of Seattle, Washington and now living in Austin, Texas. My interest in Byzantium and icons began when I was 8 years old and read my first book on Byzantium called "The Fall of Constantinople".

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Treasures From a Lost World

Icon of the Archangel Michael

This icon was looted from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade and is now in the treasury of St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice. It has been dated to the late 11th or early 12th centuries. The icon is 18 inches tall and 14 inches in width. It is made of gilt-silver and enamel, set with gemstones and glass. The gold cloisonne enamel work is amazing workmanship. The enameled flesh surface of the face of the archangel is unusual.  St. Marks has two of them, the second one of Saint George is badly damaged and most of his face is missing.  It is impossible to know where this icon was kept in Constantinople, there are no records of its origin. Its size and opulence may mean it came from an Imperial chapel.

Our Lady of the Pharos and St. Stephen's Chapel in the grounds of the Great Palace both had treasure houses of relics and precious works of art like this.

The icon of the Archangel is surrounded an entourage of military saints in enamel and points to his role as the the leader of the celestial army.

Icon of the Archangel Michael

Looted from Constantinople in 1204 and now in the treasury of St. Mark's in Venice, this icon is 17 inches tall and 14 inches wide.  It is made of silver-gilt, enamel, precious stones, pearls and glass and is dated to the late tenth or early eleventh centuries.  The use of such images has been debated over the years, they could have been placed in a chapel iconostasis or carried in processions. Such and icon would be appropriate in a funeral chapel or a shrine to the Archangel himself.

The Emperor Issac II Angelos, one of the last Byzantine Emperors before the Fourth Crusade, poured enormous sums into a church he built for the Archangel near Constantinople, icons like this would have been part of its decoration.Ivory and Bone Byzantine Casket

An Ivory and Bone Casket with Gilt Copper Mounts

11th century - Constantinople.  Such caskets were made over a long period of time in different workshops. Their production depended on a supply of elephant ivory, which passed through Fatamid Egypt, sometimes as diplomatic gifts.  Although they may have been given as wedding presents they were also bought and given as gifts between men, members of the court and scholars.  Some of them have been shown to contain jokes and illustrate literary puns.  These caskets were painted and gilded.

Gold and Pearl Cross

Constantinople 1200-1400 AD