Are there primary sources that record what the mosaics looked like in the Hagia Sophia before the Turkish conquest in 1453?

1 Answer 1


Procopius, De Aedificiis, published in 561 AD, provides a contemporary description. The extant material was published in the Loeb Classical Library.

Many of the mosaics were plastered over when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman's in 1453; it is only recently that restoration has begun; for details see Mosaics of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul:

They remained hidden for 400 years, until the architects Gaspare and Giuseppe Fossati temporarily uncovered them in 1848 and 1849. In 1931 Hagia Sophia was deconsecrated as a mosque and opened as a museum with the permission of the president of the Republic of Turkey, Kemal Atatürk. Between 1931 and 1949, the mosaics were uncovered and cleaned by the staff of the Byzantine Institute.

Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History notes that new mosaics were added after the Iconoclastic period.

The interior of Hagia Sophia was paneled with costly colored marbles and ornamental stone inlays. Decorative marble columns were taken from ancient buildings and reused to support the interior arcades. Initially, the upper part of the building was minimally decorated in gold with a huge cross in a medallion at the summit of the dome. After the period of Iconoclasm (726–843), new figural mosaics were added, some of which have survived to the present day.

enter image description here Mosaic from Hagia Sofia.

  • Can you quote where Procopius actually discusses the mosaics? The link you provided seems to only discuss the architecture of the building.
    – justCal
    Aug 1, 2016 at 18:48
  • That's all there is ... you might try the hagiographies, but comments on the mosaics would have been unlikely, even for an iconodule. Aug 1, 2016 at 19:05
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    So the upshot is that Procopius does NOT describe the mosaics. Also, it is wrong to say the restoration of the mosaics began "only recently". In fact, they were largely recovered in the 19th century, with personal permission of the sultan.
    – fdb
    Aug 1, 2016 at 22:35
  • @fdb: The upshot is that the question has been answered in the negative, with the definitive reference provided. It isn't clear that there were any mosaics included with the original construction, and that they were added after the iconoclastic movement. Furthermore, the mosaics were briefly uncovered in 1848/49, but then again covered for another 100 years. Only recently has the restoration begun. See the references above. Aug 2, 2016 at 0:08

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