Hagia Sophia Trompe L’Oeil
The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. The dome upon dome design creates an immense open space, but things are not exactly as harmonious as they seem. To cover up the huge support structure, trompe l’oeil murals were added in the 19th century so that gallery would appear more uniform. Finding these panels while you take in the breath-taking sight is an odd touch of reality in an otherwise divine architecture.
As you can see in the architectural plan above, there are massive piers along the central aisle. Between these essential structural elements are arch and column lined balconies. From the ground you can see through these arches to the bright yellow, blue and crimson painted gallery. This current decorative scheme is contemporary to the 19th century restoration (see this image) but may have been based on designs developed during the conversion of the Hagia Sophia to a mosque in the 15th century.
Presumably to give the space a more open appearance, panels imitating a ground floor view of the gallery were painted on the piers within the rhythm of the colonnade. The red arrows on the plan mark the locations of the trompe l’oeil paintings.
The illusions are pretty obvious from the second story. But as overwhelmed viewers try to take in the entirety of the Byzantine basilica from the ground floor, the illusions are actually fairly effective.
If anything, this is a good lesson in taking your time when viewing a work of art or building. You’ll get a richer understanding of the object or place and may sometimes find a few hidden secrets!