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Hagia Sophia Mosaics Gallery

Jesus Christ, Emperor Constantine IX Monomachus, Empress Zoe The most recent work done in uncovering the Hagia Sophia Mosaics, revealed a figural mosaic in the gallery. An inclined walkway leads to the upper gallery from the northern side of the narthex. Actually, there is a walkway in each of the four corners of the edifice leading to the upper gallery, but the one on the south-eastern side was closed by the buttress and minaret built later.

The Hagia Sophia Church has three galleries on the northern, southern and western direction. Historical documents indicate that, the western gallery was the most important one, since it was reserved for the empress and her retinue. According to the same sources, the northern gallery was used as a gynaeceum reserved for women. In the centre of the western gallery, which was reserved for the emperor's family, there is a square area surrounded by mosaics of "opus sectile" work.

Empress Eirene A circular green piece of marble from thessaly can be seen to the east of this square area, which was reserved for the empress and her retinue to observe religious ceremonies.

The vault of the gallery today is devoid of decorations, but most probably it was covered with mosaics during the Byzantine era. As one enters the southern gallery the most attractive one today, one faces a marble partition resembling an antique bronze door in style. Research revealed that this partition is not contemporary with the Hagia Sophia Church but was placed here later, its magnificence being due to the fact that the area behind it was used for a very important function. the area was actually reserved for Council meetings and was known as the Council Hall. It was called "the Gate to Heaven and Hell" by the people.

Alexius On the eastern wall, immediately south of the apse, there is a mosaic panel depicting Jesus Christ, Empress Zoe and Emperor Constantine IX. Monomachus, Jesus Christ, seated on a throne, is holding the Bible in his left hand while his right hand is lifted in blessing. On his right, the emperor is offering a money-bag, and on his left, the empress is holding a scroll in her hands. The words "Sovereign of the Romans, Constantine Monomachus" are inscribed above his head. The inscription above the head of the empress reads "Zoe, the most pious Augusta". In this 11th century mosaic, both the emperor and the empress are wearing their ceremonial garments. It is said that on the occasion of each of Zoe's three marriages, the face of the previous emperor was replaced by that of the new one.

The mosaic to the right of the window depicts the Virgin Mary holding the Christ-child, Emperor John II Comnenus (1118-1143), and his wife, Empress Eirene, daughter of King Ladislaus I of Hungary. The portrait of Prince Alexius is seen on an extension of the wall. Both the emperor and his wife were famous for being devoutly religious and charitable. Devoid of the stiffness apparent in portraits of sovereigns, both the emperor and the empress are depicted in this 12th century mosaic with the soft, realistic expressions befitting their character.

Columns Turning back and looking west, one faces a mosaic panel which is considered one of the most magnificent mosaics of Byzantium: the Deesis. Unfortunately, the lower section of the mosaic has been damaged. Christ is portrayed in the centre with St. John the Baptist on his right and the Virgin Mary on his left. The expression on their faces is very realistic and appropriate with the theme of Deesis.

The compassionate expression of Christ, and the look of entreaty of the other two, are very expressive. Although its exact date is a matter of dispute, the mosaic belongs, probably, to the first half of the 12th century. It demonstrates the same technique as that used in the mosaics of the Church of Chora.

Emperor Justinian, Virgin Mary holding Christ-child, Emperor Constantine At the base of the wall opposite the Deesis, is a stone tablet on which the name Hericus Dandalo is inscribed. Dandalo, Doge of Venice, came to Constantinople with the Fourth Crusade and caused much vandalism. It is claimed that he is buried at this spot.

Before leaving this section, the frescoes by Fossati on the ceiling of the dome attract the attention. these are 19th century copies of ancient mosaic motifs. From Fossati's records and illustrations, we may conclude that there are figural mosaics under the plaster on the vaults. The results of exploratory work carried on in recent years prove this. Emperor Constantine The same supposition may be made about the vaults in the northern gallery. Here too, the frescoes were done by Fossati in the 19th century. In recent years, a mosaic depicting Emperor Alexander standing, was discovered in the northern gallery. He reigned with his brother Leon VI. the fact that his mosaic portrait is in such a dark and forgotten corner, seems to be a reference to his weak character. In the galleries, there are other well preserved mosaics of floral motifs on the soffits of the arches between the columns. These are contemporary with the church. In the rooms located at the southern end of the western gallery, there are 6th century decorative mosaics as well as descriptive mosaics belonging to later periods; they are badly damaged. These rooms during the Byzantine era, were reserved for the church leaders.