The former Basilica of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (Constantinople) is the undisputed symbolic center of the Greek Orthodox faith, hosting millions of visitors each year who are awed by its great religious, historical and architectural importance.
From 537 to 1453 it served as the undisputed heart of the mighty Byzantine Empire. “The Great Church” — as the Byzantines called it — has naturally been a treasure trove of great finds for historians and archaeologists alike.
What is hidden under Hagia Sophia?
Over the years there have been arguments purporting the existence of an extensive hidden area under Hagia Sophia, since it is known that crypts were a common feature of the churches built in the early Christian period.
Additionally, there is the argument that for a cathedral of such enormous importance, it is almost impossible not to have had secret places underneath for precious artifacts to be hidden and from which people could escape in case of a siege.
There are enticing legends about what may possibly be hiding underneath the enormous structure, but there has never been any proof.
Although speculation abounds, research from 1935 and onward has shed very little light on what may lie underneath Hagia Sophia. The basilica’s great cistern certainly lies underground, but it is located 150 meters southwest of the ancient church and was built by the Byzantine emperor, Justinian I, in 532 AD.
Of course there are subterranean tunnels and a water system used for the cathedral and all its surrounding areas. Research has also shown the existence of nine wells and several tunnels used for ventilation.
Hagia Sophia: An Archaeological Reexamination of the Cathedral of Byzantine Constantinople
A recent discovery provides more historical background about the iconic basilica: a disk identifying the exact spot where Emperor Justinian I once stood in the gigantic cathedral.
The disc-shaped stone circle made out of porphyry which has been identified as the place where Justinian I actually stood, was found underneath another building known as the Northeast Vestibule.
This finding is the result of research conducted by archaeologists Ken Dark and Jan Kostenec, who worked at the site from 2004 until 2018. They have written a fascinating new book titled “Hagia Sophia: An Archaeological Reexamination of the Cathedral of Byzantine Constantinople.”
In 532 Justinian I gave the order to build a magnificent cathedral to thank God for saving his throne during the Nika Insurrection and to honor Christendom. The splendid, monumental building — constructed at lightning speed and finished by the year 537 — would also serve to show of Justinian’s absolute power and immense wealth.
Hagia Sophia was actually built on the site where two cathedrals had been built previously, both destroyed by fires, with the second fire occurring during the Nika Revolt.
Justinian I was the most important and powerful emperor of the Byzantine empire. It was he who restored the unity of the Roman empire by in turn kicking out the Vandals, Huns and Franks who had conquered Italy and North Africa during the reign of his predecessors.
In addition to his glorious cathedral, Justinian I left what is perhaps an even greater legacy to Byzantium by writing the Corpus Iuris Civilis, known as the “Code of Justinian.” This codification of laws, which remained the foundation of the Byzantine legal system for 900 years, has even influenced modern legal systems.
So the spot marking where the great Emperor Justinian I supposedly stood in the basilica, according to archaeologists and historians, is an important archaeological find.
Furthermore, researchers have found that Hagia Sophia’s structure was even larger and more elaborate than previously thought, while new mosaics, frescoes, and tiles from the ancient and medieval periods were recently revealed after plaster was removed from its walls.
And there is more. Researchers have found what is likely to be the baptistery, which was previously believed to have been lost. It is thought that this structure would have been where the children of the emperor were baptized, and where all the children of the court were formally inducted into the Church.
Another incredible recent discovery is an area underneath a large hall which may have served as a library in ancient times.
The size of the space indicates that it could potentially have held thousands of scrolls, making it an ideal space for learning and inquiry, a natural center for learning in the very heart of the Byzantine empire.
Hagia Sophia remains the symbolic center of the Greek Orthodox faith, even almost six centuries after its fall to the Ottomans. From 537 to 1453, the “Great Church” – as the Byzantines called it – was the eastern heart of Christianity. Full story: https://bit.ly/2HZPGGQ
Posted by Greek Reporter on Thursday, 4 April 2019