The professional crew behind the documentary title “The Beneath,” a film showing what lies underneath the Byzantine cathedral of Hagia Sophia, recently returned to the monument in order to continue its investigations of the building’s subterranean ruins.
According to the film’s Turkish director, Göksel Gülensoy, “The subterranean parts of Hagia Sophia are even more fascinating than the terrestrial part of it.”
Gülensoy made his first dive into the waters beneath the historic cathedral in 1998. He and his three fellow associates and divers incredibly even had to have a special vaccine made for their explorations, due to the presence of poisonous snakes and scorpions down below.
With the help of archaeology professors who are experts on the Byzantine era, along with officials in charge of the Hagia Sophia Museum, two possible entrances to the temple’s tunnels were identified in these investigations.
For the next sixteen years, the team would continue their unique explorations by diving into the two tanks, one ten meters deep and the other twelve meters. Both routes are located under the central aisle of Hagia Sophia, where Gülensoy discovered at least 20 unexplored tank branches.
Investigations of Hagia Sophia’s subterranean area had first begun in 1937, when Kisterna, the largest underground water tank ever built in Istanbul, was discovered 150 meters (492 feet) below the hallowed building.
These explorations ended prematurely, however, due to the outbreak of World War II. After another dive in 1945, when water was removed for research purposes, exploration lagged once again, only resuming again in 2005.
The purpose of the new investigation was to identify and map out how the supply and tunnel network below Hagia Sophia was structured. A total of nine wells were discovered during the search — five of which still contained water.
During Gülensoy’s investigation, the divers also discovered the tomb of St. Antigonus — a stupendous find which was later confirmed by archaeologist Haluk Jetinkaya. Another tomb, dating back to the 15th century, and believed to have been that of Patriarch Athanasios, was also found.
While examining two wells, the crew discovered a human skeleton, two pieces of wood, a bucket, a chain with two rings on the side, and several vials intriguingly dating back to 1917.
In regard to these unusual findings, which were dated much later than the Byzantine artifacts, diver Ozan Chokdeyer speculated that “The unwanted were to be imprisoned here.”
Another major discovery that the divers were able to confirm was that Hagia Sophia was indeed connected underground with the palace of Constantine and with the Byzantine Aqueduct, another great feat of engineering in the ancient city.
According to the Turkish Ministry of Culture, workers have recently completed a number of repairs along with the necessary ongoing daily maintenance of Hagia Sophia, helped largely by the absence of tourists there because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Now that director Gülensoy and his team have been given another opportunity to explore the historical monument, only time will tell what other discoveries the crew will unearth beneath the Byzantine edifice.
Photographs of the expedition can be viewed on the diving crew’s Facebook page, Hagia Sophia “the Beneath” Documentary Movie.