Friday, September 1, 2017

HAGIA SOPHIA MUSEUM / UNDERGROUND TUNNELS

Sultanahmet, Fatih - İstanbul - Turkey

GPS : 41°00'28.0"N 28°58'44.6"E / 41.007789, 28.979059



PHOTOGRAPHS ALBUM

There are arguments for the existence of an extensive hidden area under the Hagia Sophia. For instance, it is well known that crypts were a common feature of the church architecture of the early Christian period. The Christian practice of burying the dead in crypts beneath churches was quite distinct from the pagan practice of burying the dead outside the walls of the city. Two of the most important churches in the Christian world during the 6th century A.D., i.e. Old St. Peter’s in Rome and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, also had an underground area beneath them.

In the case of the former, it was built over a cemetery and near a temple of an Etruscan god, whilst the latter was built over a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Aphrodite. As Hagia Sophia was one of the most important churches in Christendom, it is expected that it would have an underground area as well, just like Old St. Peter’s and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Moreover, it is possible that like these two churches, the Hagia Sophia was also built over a pagan temple.

Yet, little is known about what lies underneath the Hagia Sophia, despite the fact that the structure has been investigated by researchers since 1935. According to one legend, the Devil was imprisoned underneath the Hagia Sophia. In another, Byzantine relics were said to be hidden by priests in secret chambers underneath the church prior to the city’s conquest by the Ottomans. These, however, are merely tales without much evidence to back them.

Though not directly beneath the Hagia Sophia, the well-known Basilica Cistern lies underground just 150 meters southwest of the ancient church and was built by the Byzantine emperor, Justinian I, in A.D. 532. This cistern is 138 m in length and 64.6 m in width, covering an area of almost 1,000 square metres.  An incredible work effort went into its construction, with 336 marble columns supporting the structure, each measuring 9m in height, and arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns.

In 1937, researchers began a survey of the underground area directly below the Hagia Sophia. This ended prematurely due to the start of the Second World War. In 1945, it was decided that the water under Hagia Sophia was to be removed for research purposes. The water level did not go down, and the pump’s motor burned out, thus bringing the undertaking to an end.
Exploring the underground tunnels beneath the Hagia Sophia.

Exploring the underground tunnels beneath the Hagia Sophia. In 2005, a survey of the wells in and around Hagia Sophia was carried out with the long-term aim of understanding the function of the underground tunnels and water system used for the building and its surrounding areas. The survey identified nine wells inside and around Hagia Sophia and its gardens. Five of these wells still contained water, and two were explored by the team. In addition, tunnels, which were used to provide ventilation and reduce humidity, were also found.

In 2009, the filmmaker Göksel Gülensoy produced a documentary that explored the subterranean region of Hagia Sophia. Gülensoy’s team was allowed to dive into two reservoirs that connected the church with the Topkapı Palace and the Underground Cistern. Near the bottom of the first reservoir, the divers found two thick pieces of wood, a bucket, and an animal skeleton.

In the second reservoir, the team discovered a number of flasks dating to 1917, glass from the chandeliers of Hagia Sophia, a chain with two rings at the end, and bits of stained glass. It is claimed that the flasks were probably dropped by British soldiers trying to get some holy water when they invaded the city in 1917.

The underground tunnels covered the city of Constantinople. The huge cistern that a galley may sail was beneath earth. The tunnels under Hagia Sophia were reaching to Crypto rooms and the rooms for secret writings. The treasures were hidden beneath Hagia Sophia due to the sieges.

There was no certain information about any burial beneath Hagia Sophia. The divers revealed some graves under Hagia Sophia, St. Antinegos, the first person to be buried in Hagia Sophia from the 13th century, and Patriarch Athanasius - both the reality beyond the legend. The team reached two narrow corridors of about 70 centimeters height through Sultanahmet Square and Topkapı Palace, possibly were used by the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II in the 5th-century as a hidden tunnel in order not to be seen by the public.

Any trace of such legendary long tunnels or secret rooms is still a question after the permission taken just for one day. Yet, there are places to be discovered. Göksel Gülensoy tried to reveal the hidden secrets of Hagia Sophia lying beneath the surface in his new documentary. He with his team of two divers and four spelunkers dived to learn more about the reservoirs which are connected to Topkapı Palace and Underground Cistern. Although he has started his studies back in 1998, he could complete his 50 minute documentary In the Depths of Hagia Sophia in 2009.

The first to explore was the reservoir close to the entrance. It is 12 meters deep and the divers found two thick pieces of wood and a bucket which turned into dust when they were touched. In the second reservoir they found a dozen flasks dated 1917, glass from the chandeliers, a chain with two rings at the end and pieces of stained glass. International Speleological Society of Boğaziçi undertook the search of the tunnels under the main hall of Hagia Sophia. They found two stone tunnels towards to Sultanahmet Square and Topkapı Palace.

Both ends of the tunnel split into two after 50 meters but the passages were closed. One of the searchers Aydın Menderes moved towards the direction of Topkapı Palace until he saw daylight between the stones. He used a pen camera to see that he had reached the palace yard. He went back to enter another tunnel which led to two rooms. There were bones and broken jugs which were expected to be the gravesite of St Antinegos who was the first to be buried in Hagia Sophia and the bones of Patriarch Athanasius.

On the floor of the main hall under the gigantic dome, the reservoir door close to the entrance was opened first. Judging by the concrete around it, it had not been used for a long time. According to records about the building, it had been decided in 1945 to empty the water under the floor for research purposes, but that attempt failed when the water level did not go down. The idea was given up all together after the pump’s motor burned out.

Thus, the doors were opened for the first time in 64 years, and for the first time in history, a diver was going underneath Hagia Sophia. It was 9:30 on a December morning and the water temperature was 6 degrees Celsius. Cameraman Engin Aydın and photographer Ozan Çokdeğer were the first to go down into the reservoir. During the exploratory work done the week before, they had lowered a camera down and saw passages below the building.

As the entrance was too narrow to accommodate the oxygen tanks of the divers, a 50-meter-long hose was prepared so they could breathe in case the passages extended to the depth of the building. The reservoir under the first door was 12 meters deep. Near the bottom, Çokdeğer saw two thick pieces of wood, resembling shovel handles, in what looked like fine condition. They turned into dust when he touched them. Then he saw a bucket, which also broke to pieces when he touched it, and an animal’s skeleton. Çokdeğer studied the walls of the reservoir for 50 minutes, and then returned to the surface.

The research team had permission to work for only a day, so they rapidly moved to the second shutter, closer to the center of the dome. Years ago, Erdem Yücer, one of the former directors of the museum, had shown Gülensoy a photograph that was taken of the foundations of Hagia Sophia. The photo showed researchers in a boat in a place filled with water, resembling the Yerebatan Cisterns.

Seismic research had also demonstrated that the area underneath the big hall was empty. The team, which had previously lowered a camera down from the second door during the first exploration, was thrilled to see two passages extending to the center of the building and to the exit door – passages that might extend to Yerebatan and Topkapı.

Diving supervisor Levent Karataş and diver Kenan Ergüç lowered the cameraman and the photographer with a rope down to the bottom of the second reservoir. The floor was covered with ooze up to their knees. The first things Çokdeğer noticed were around a dozen flasks dated 1917. British soldiers likely dropped them while trying to get some of the holy water during the invasion that year. Next they found glass from the giant chandeliers that used to light up Hagia Sophia. A further search led to a chain with two rings at the end.

Perhaps a prisoner met his death there. Chilled by the thought, Çokdeğer next found what looked like pieces of stained glass in seven colors. He sent some of the pieces up for better examination; later, they were returned to the water. The two divers were in the reservoir for 50 minutes and left after they finished recording the sealed passages inside the stone walls. They went straight to the mobile x-ray machine, where Ministry of Health personnel confirmed that the divers had no foreign objects on their bodies.

Permission for exploration had been granted on the condition that everything found was to be left in its original place and that no changes to the structure of the building were to be made. That is why the sealed passages were left untouched. The research and recording work in the tunnels beneath Hagia Sophia’s main hall was undertaken by the International Speleological Society of Boğaziçi, or BUMAD. Four experienced spelunkers with professional cameras on their helmets had eight hours to explore as deeply as they could.

First, a team from the Istanbul Gas Distribution Industry and Trade Joint Stock Company, or IGDAS, checked the entrance of the passage for poisonous gases and decided there was no threat. Just in case, the team of four was still equipped with gas detectors. Assoc. Prof. Haluk Dursun, the director of the Hagia Sophia Museum, joined the spelunkers this time. The hall they first stepped into was long, like a corridor, and strengthened with pillars.

Two stone tunnels of approximately 70 centimeters in height extended in the direction of Sultanahmet Square and Topkapı Palace - presumably the tunnels the mighty 5th-century Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II had used to go to Tekfur Palace and the hippodrome without being seen by the public. The spelunkers split into two teams and entered the tunnels in opposite directions. Both of the tunnels were strengthened with brick arches and split into two after 50 meters. One branch of each tunnel led to a spot under the dome, but those passages were closed.

Yaman Özakın and Emrah Çoraman took measurements with a laser and drew a sketch while Pelin Kurt and Aydın Menderes continued to move in the direction of Topkapı Palace. After a while, Menderes resumed his journey, starting to crawl as the tunnel height decreased to 25 centimeters. When he saw daylight between the stones in front of him, he used his pen camera and saw he had reached the palace yard.

Menderes returned the way he had come and entered another tunnel to discover two rooms approximately two meters high and five square meters in size. Bones and broken jugs were scattered around. This place, it seemed, was likely the gravesite of St. Antinegos, the first person to be buried in Hagia Sophia, in the 13th century, and Patriarch Athanasius, who was interred 200 years later. It was the most exciting discovery of the day.

“My friend Assoc. Prof. İhsan Tunay, a student of Semavi Eyice, took me on a tour of Hagia Sophia in 1990 and told me legends about the structure. Thanks to him, I became passionately devoted to the building,” said Gülensoy. In 1992, he shot a documentary on the building and its legends, “Hagia Sophia,” that won awards at the San Sebastian, Tampere and Ankara film festivals. Further motivated by this, he started work on a second film about the tunnels and reservoirs that hide the building’s secrets.

“I searched for the mystery under the floor with the help of Assoc. Prof. Haluk Çetinkaya. I believe what is beneath Hagia Sophia is much more exciting than above the surface,” he said. “I want to follow the traces of the two rooms under the abscissa for my third film. The room believed to be the place where the first priest of Hagia Sophia was buried with his belongings has not been thoroughly searched before.”

Hagia Sophia Museum Director Haluk Dursun: ‘The museum should be closed for a while’. Though foreign and domestic researchers have been inspecting Hagia Sophia since 1935, many of the building’s characteristics are still unknown, says Dursun. “I believe Gülensoy’s team made important discoveries, including discovering the rooms mentioned in archives as priests’ graves.”

The director believes those findings should be examined from an archeological perspective and that Hagia Sophia should be closed for a while so the building can be extensively scanned. “All restorers in Turkey should gather and quickly restore the mosaics and other parts,” he said, adding that there should be a “Classical Istanbul” or “Eastern Roman Civilization” museum in the city where the findings could be displayed.

A new documentary on the underground tunnels and reservoirs that permeate the earth around Hagia Sophia, Ayasofya’nın Derinliklerinde (In the Depths of Hagia Sophia), is being recorded by filmmaker Göksel Gülensoy, who states, “I believe what is beneath Hagia Sophia is much more exciting than what is above the surface.” On the floor of the main hall under the gigantic dome, the reservoir door close to the entrance was opened first for the first time in 64 years, and for the first time in history, a diver was going underneath Hagia Sophia.

The reservoir under the first door was 12 meters deep. Near the bottom, the diver saw two thick pieces of wood, resembling shovel handles and a bucket, but they turned into dust when he touched them. The second shutter, closer to the center of the dome revealed two passages extending to the center of the building and to the exit door - passages that might extend the famous Byzantine building to Topkapı Palace and the Yerebatan Cisterns. The hall into which they first stepped was long, like a corridor, and strengthened with pillars.

There they found glass from the giant chandeliers that used to light up Hagia Sophia as well as what looked like pieces of stained glass in seven colors. The spelunkers also tried to find the secret passages said to extend from Tekfur Palace, next to the old city walls, to the islands of the Marmara Sea. Two stone tunnels of approximately 70 centimeters in height extended in the direction of Sultanahmet Square and Topkapı Palace - presumably the tunnels that the mighty 5th-century Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II had used to go to Tekfur Palace and to the hippodrome without being seen by the public.

The divers entered the tunnels in opposite directions. Each of these tunnels was strengthened with brick arches and split into two after 50 meters. One branch of each tunnel led to a spot under the dome, but those passages were closed. Another branch led to the palace yard. This locale, it seemed, likely included the gravesites of St. Antinegos, the first person to be buried in Hagia Sophia, in the 13th century, and of Patriarch Athanasius, who was interred 200 years later. Permission for exploration had been granted on the condition that everything found was to be left in its original place and that no changes to the structure of the building were to be made. That is why the sealed passages were left untouched.

LOCATION SATELLITE MAP



WEB SITE : Hagia Sophia Museum Administration

MORE INFO & CONTACT
E-Mail : ayasofyamuzesi@kultur.gov.tr
Phone : +90 212 522 1750 / Tel: +90 212 522 0989
Fax : +90 212 512 5474

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