Hagia Sophia: The secrets that are hidden in the church’s underground world

Hagia Sophia

Another impressive world, perhaps analogous to the great architectural edifice of the majestic Hagia Sophia, is believed to be hidden in the basements of the famous temple, that was founded by Constantine the Great in 330 AD.

Even though the research and excavation below the surface of the church is not possible at the moment, due to the fact that it now operates as a full-time mosque, several photos have resurfaced recently proving that there is evidence for the existence of an extensive underground area under the basement of Hagia Sophia.

Of course, crypts and catacombs are known to have existed during the early Christian period, but a larger space is believed to be located under the church, where many relics and other objects were hidden in the past, that testify to the church’s tremendous history.

According to archeologists, the custom of Christians to bury the dead in secret ossuaries and crypts under their churches was very common, especially during the Byzantine years where Constantinople was named the capital of the Roman/Byzantine Empire and Hagia Sophia was built.

Besides, two of the most important Christian churches in the world, the church of St. Peter in Rome and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, are known to have some very impressive crypts and catacombs, that were used as cemeteries, and so it is not surprising that a similar “underworld system” might exist under Hagia Sophia.

Hagia Sophia catacombs
Photo of the catacombs located under the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.

One of the stories that prevails among historians is that Hagia Sophia was built over a pagan temple, and there is a whole undiscovered, different building hidden under it. Moreover, based on ancient scripts that were found in the church, people believed at the time that Satan was imprisoned under Hagia Sophia and that is why nobody ever really explored the underground space during older times, while according to another legend, some priests hid valuable Byzantine relics in the crypts under the church, just before the fall of the city.

However, to this day little is known about what exactly is under the church, despite extensive investigations that began around 1935, as they were all terminated abruptly.

In 1937, a team of European archeologists and geologists began researching below Hagia Sophia, but their investigations were suddenly halted due to the outbreak of World War II. Again in 1945, it another group of archeologists decided to pump water under the church to facilitate the excavation, but failed to do so, which resulted in future excavations being cancelled and the temple being closed to the public for several years.

In 2005, excavations in the wells of the area started again, in order to examine the way in which the network of tunnels in the city operated and connected with Hagia Sophia. The search identified nine wells in the surrounding area of ​​the church, five of which still had water, and two were fully explored, while a few tunnels were found that functioned as a ventilation and dehumidification system. Later, in 2009, a grand excavation that ended up becoming a popular historic documentary by filmmaker Goksel Gulensoy, discovered two tanks that connected the church to the underground Cistern and the Topkapi palace, which is built on a hill overlooking the Bosporus strait.

At the bottom of one of these two tanks, and after weeks of research, divers found various objects, such as vials dating from 1917, glass from the church chandeliers, jewellery, pieces of wood, a bucket and even a human skeleton. Even though it is unknown how objects from the church ended up within the water system of the city, it is alleged that they were either thrown in the tanks when British soldiers tried to get Hagia Sophia’s “holy water” after invading the city in 1917.

Hagia Sophia
Photos of Hagia Sophia’s underground excavations.

Hagia Sophia, one of the biggest landmarks of Christianity and Orthodoxy, which for more than a millennium dominated the capital of the Greco-Roman Empire, was built by 10,000 craftsmen, who worked tirelessly for six years to complete this colossal project, while 320,000 pounds (approximately equal to 120,000,000 Euros in today’s world) were spent for its construction.

Over the years, both Turkish and European scholars have tried to explain this architectural marvel of the world and have stated that for the construction and the foundations of Hagia Sophia, techniques unprecedented and mysterious for the time were applied, that are even difficult to examine and repeat today, which showcases the incredible value of the building.

Precisely, it comes as no surprise that about 1600 years after the construction of the temple, the great earthquake that hit Turkey on August 17, 1999, did not affect the foundations of Hagia Sophia at all, and although the church was preserved safely over the centuries, many damages in its interior occurred when the Turkish turned the church into a mosque and scratched out all the hagiographies from the walls.

Even though there are constant requests from archeologists around the world to research the mysterious spaces hidden under Hagia Sophia and find valuable Christian relics, the Turkish government has blocked such projects for the time being, and continues to operate the temple as an Islamic place of pray.

Hagia Sophia
The interior of Hagia Sophia today, that reminds nothing of the once glorious Christian temple.

All photos from ToVima.gr

Hagia Sophia - Then, Now, Always