Hagia Sophia: 1500 Years of History
The latest Virtual Reality production of the Foundation of the Hellenic World at the "Tholos" of the Hellenic Cosmos Cultural Centre.
The viewers are invited to a unique journey of discovery, an enthralling virtual tour for people of every age, in which the visitors are not just observers but participate in various scenarios and itineraries as well. The interactive show reconstructs in full detail the interior of the church, its architectural design, the sculptural and mosaic decoration, presenting at the same time the various phases of its construction along with important historical, social and economic facts about life in Byzantium. The audience is given the opportunity to visit this iconic building, and to appreciate it as it was in its prime.
The starting point of this virtual journey is set in the era of emperor Justinian (6th century); the architectural configuration reconstructed presents the monument in its late 6th-century form. At the same time, the presentation reconstructs the largest portion of the internal decoration created during the Komnenian era (11th-12th centuries), as it survived and was uncovered by the conservation work accomplished up until the middle of the 20th century.
Moreover, this virtual journey follows the fortunes of the Hagia Sophia through the Middle and Late Byzantine periods, based on written sources that offer a wealth of information on the historical context as well as on technical construction matters. Thus, the show is not just a mere presentation of the architectural aspects of the monument, but rather a vivid description of Byzantine society in connection with the monument.
What is special about this new production is that viewers participate actively by answering questions during the tour.
A virtual tour of the monument: A historical and architectural approach
After the "Nika riots", in January 532, and the destruction of the former church of the Hagia Sophia built by emperor Theodosius, Justinian commissioned the mathematicians and architects Anthemius and Isidore to construct a new church. The two architects came up with an original and ambitious architectural plan, which led to the construction of a building that was to be the culmination of not only the Justinian but of the entire Byzantine church architecture as well. Our guide on this tour is a present-day researcher who narrates stories and traditions about the church as well as about the residents of Constantinople in various eras, often quoting from the surviving written sources of the time. He also informs us on aspects of contemporary research on the church.
The Ecclesiastical Synod of 879/880: The religious and ecclesiastical aspect
In the autumn of 879 an Ecclesiastical Synod was held in the church of the Hagia Sophia, which eventually sanctioned the second election of Photius to the patriarchal throne. This event illustrates another important aspect of the Hagia Sophia, as the stage on which watershed events for the empire took place. The narrator, quoting from written sources, casts light upon the political correlations and the diplomatic maneuvering in the tug-of-war between Rome and Constantinople as to their respective jurisdictions and spheres of influence. To further emphasize the symbolic function of the building, the narration also refers to another watershed event in the relations between Eastern and Western Church: The schism of 1054.
Internal decoration: Art and artistic significance
This part of the virtual journey traces the progress of the iconographic decoration of the church. Viewers are offered the opportunity to see and appreciate up close outstanding specimens of the Byzantine mosaic art, and they are given information on technical construction matters.
1261: The Crowning of Michael Palaeologos: The political and ideological aspect
On 15 September 1261, a month after the recapture of Constantinople from the Crusaders, Michael VIII Palaeologos was crowned Emperor in the church of the Hagia Sophia, founding the dynasty of the Palaeologi that was to be the last Byzantine imperial dynasty.
The narration describes the event quoting from the surviving written sources of the time, and the coronation ceremony is reconstructed in its entire splendor.
Natural disasters and final configuration of the church in the Late Byzantine period: The architectural aspect
During the era of the Palaeologi (13th-14th centuries) the church of the Hagia Sophia suffered yet again grave damages, and the ensuing repairs and interior rebuilding gave the monument its final form, which is the one that still exists in our days.
Hagia Sophia, a political as well as spiritual symbol of the Byzantine Empire, a masterwork of Byzantine architecture has survived until our time in spite of the adversities of history and time, and is a monument of world's cultural heritage.