CULTURE

Italian architect’s atelier discovered in Hagia Sophia

The recent rediscovery of a secret room in Hagia Sophia in Istanbul has unfolded a fairy-tale story. Its existence, which even the Museum of Hagia Sophia’s management was unaware of, revealed the atelier of Gaspar Fossati (1809-1883). The renowned Italian architect had been commissioned by Sultan Abdul Mecit I to renovate the Hagia Sophia monument during 1847-1849. Hidden behind a prefabricated area constructed for the guards, Fossati’s working area was discovered when the museum’s new manager inquired whether the complex had areas which remained closed. That’s when a member of staff mentioned the existence of a closed room. Inside the room, a newspaper from 1968 left on a dusty stand proved that the room had been open at the time. Scattered around were sketches, renovation tools and scaffolding material, along with minute pieces of gold mosaics. Under the Italian architect’s guidance, the renovation included the varnishing of Hagia Sophia’s inner and outer walls as well as the unearthing and cleaning of the mosaics. While residing in Rome, where he excelled in sketching, Fossati was appointed court architect and worked for the czar in St Petersburg. In 1837 he moved to Istanbul to undertake the construction of the Russian Embassy. Impressed by his work, the sultan then commissioned him to renovate hagia Sophia.