Minecraft Maps / Complex

Byzantine-era Hagia Sophia Reconstruction with Historical Resources (WIP) (UPDATED)

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RandyDandy63's Avatar RandyDandy63
Level 19 : Journeyman Crafter
NOTE: this map is incomplete. Once it is finished I'll post a new page that includes a full map download and the finished build.

This map is currently consuming every fiber of my being, as I've been spending almost every waking moment working on it for about a week or now so I thought I'd post my progress so far and see what people think and see if they have any recommendations.

The build I am currently working on is a 1:1 reconstruction of the Cathedral of the Hagia Sophia (Holy wisdom) in Constantinople, as it was when it was under the control of the Byzantine Empire. This build is a reconstruction of the cathedral as it appeared in the late 12th century, focusing on the cathedral as St. Anthony of Novgorod would have seen it during his visit in 1200 AD. Long-term I plan in the future to create several other builds of the Cathedral as it was in various other periods in history, using this project as a base and modifying it accordingly. I plan to make builds of the cathedral as it was in the Justinianic, Latin, Palailogian, Early Ottomman, and Modern eras.

I have completed about 3/4 of the cathedral proper so far. My build is unique in that I have been using various historical resources and manuscripts I have at my disposal from my University's library and JSTOR to form this build in terms of an accurate, analytical, historical reconstruction of what the cathedral looked like in this particular era of Byzantine History, to the best of my ability with the resources available.

he scaling on this map is based solely on proportional accuracy, centered on maintaining the upmost accuracy to the archeological & architectural reality of the Hagia Sophia as it has survived to this day.

Artistic liberties are taken only in areas where there are no surviving features of the original structure, and any surviving fragmentary remains or ancient descriptions are used as the core jumping off point for any such reconstruction. For example, the great baptistery almost wholly does not survive, being destroyed through a long process of decline that started with it's ruination in the sack of Constantinople in 1204 and culminated in it's complete destruction in the Ottoman era. However, a single above-ground pier incorporated into an ottoman buttress and two pier foundations survive to this day, the placement of which suggest a piered, vaulted, basilical structure. As such, I formed my reconstruction of the great baptistery around these surviving piers, historic accounts of the great baptistery, and surviving examples of contemporaneous Byzantine Basilica-style baptisteries.

So as to avoid confusion, I will list each of my sources that I have used to accurately reconstruct each element of the Cathedral, and the corresponding element of the build that those sources correspond to.

Just for reference, in the resource list I''ll be using some abbreviations to show whether a particular element is complete (C), Partially Complete (PC) or hasn't been built yet (NB)

The most important and heavily utilized resource I used for this project is this comprehensive architectural survey of the Hagia Sophia conducted by Dr. Robert L. Van Nice from 1965-1986. In my opinion it is the greatest publicly available resource on the structure and architectural features of the Hagia Sophia. The general ground plan, shrine placement, general isometric reconstruction, and many major and minor details of the church structure were derived from this survey, which I cannot recommend enough for anyone who is interested in an accurate, analytical look at the archaeological and architectural characteristics of the Roman Empire's greatest Cathedral:


Another extremely useful resource was the book Hagia Sophia in Context: An Archaeological Re-examination of the Cathedral of Byzantine Constantinople by Drs. Ken Dark and Jan Kostenec. This book is perhaps the most comprehensive survey of the subsidiary structures of the Hagia Sophia, and includes a multitude of invaluable ground plans, reconstructions, photographs, and descriptions of these structures that proved utterly indispensable for my work on these structures. This book served as the basis for my reconstructions of the Great baptistery, patriarchal palace, small baptistery, Thomiates hall, ramps, horologion, and various other subsidiary structures (PC). A link to it can be found here:

Hagia Sophia in Context: An Archaeological Re-examination of the Cathedral of Byzantine Constantinople

Mosaics of North and South Tympanum (C):

Marble decoration of the piers of the upper galleries now hidden behind calligraphy shields (C):

Mosaics of the currently inaccessible room (Large Sekreton) above the southwest vestibule (C):

Justinianic mosaics in the arch connecting the upper colonnade to the vaults of the north and south galleries (C):

Of particular help to me in reconstructing the mosaics and the interior of the south and north gallery of the cathedral is the work of Bob Atchison, a historian of Byzantine and Russian architectural and iconographic history
-Vault mosaics of the north, south, and west galleries (PC):
https://www.pallasweb.com/deesis/drawings-hagia-sophia-loos-grelot.html (Loos drawings)

-Hanging green Lampadas of the gallery (C):
https://www.pallasweb.com/deesis/drawings-hagia-sophia-loos-grelot.html (Loos drawings)

-Imperial enclosure in front of the Deesis mosaic (C):
https://www.pallasweb.com/deesis/drawings-hagia-sophia-loos-grelot.html (Loos Drawings)

-Mosaics of the arch of the western conch (C):
https://www.pallasweb.com/deesis/drawings-hagia-sophia-loos-grelot.html (Saltzenberg drawings)

I will update this list with further related resources as the build progresses.

P.S. sorry for how bad the screenshots look, doing lighting stuff is the most boring and unenjoyable part of doing builds for me, especially with a big build like this where I have to put down like 2000 torches to fully illuminate all the domes, so for right now I'm just going to use a night vision potion to take the screenshots, which unfortunately makes the build look alot more color saturated and doesn't give a true sense of the beauty of the Hagia Sophia. Final build will be illuminated naturally, hopefully utilizing fancy shaders and stuff so stay tuned.
Progress75% complete

1 Update Logs

Update #1 Subsidiary Structures and Plans for Future Growth : by RandyDandy63 12/01/2022 10:48:00 pmDec 1st, 2022

Didn't even realize updates were a feature on planet Minecraft lol so this is my first "official" update, whoops. I had been posting progress updates on this map infrequently in the comment section since this page went live, so if you want to see my previous progress look there.

Since my last update I have gained access to the absolutely invaluable Hagia Sophia in Context: An Archaeological Re-examination of the Cathedral of Byzantine Constantinople by Drs. Ken Dark and Jan Kostenec. This book was integral for all the work I have done in the interim since my last update. Their detailed work on the subsidiary structures of the Hagia Sophia has allowed me to undertake accurate reconstructions of the Great baptistery, the Hypogeum, the antechamber of St. Michael at the southwest vestibule, and the Thomiates hall and it's undercroft; pictures of which can be found in the updated images tab. Their work also spurred me on to undertake major reconstructions of the large sekreton, the small baptistery and it's vestibule, the private imperial chapel in the southwest buttress, the long room over the atrium, the chapel of the Holy well, the Horologion, and all the buttresses and ramps. All of these are a work in progress but most of the structures of the patriarchal palace that surround the southwest vestibule are near completion.

In the atrium I finished the gardens and the flying buttresses of the western facade. I had previously decided to remove these buttresses as I was under the mistaken impression that they dated from the era of the Latin occupation of Constantinople, as many previous works of scholarship had suggested, but thanks to the work of Drs. Dark and Kostenec, it came to my attention that these buttresses actually most likely date from the middle Byzantine period, around the 10th century. As such, I have included them in this build as it is meant to convey the cathedral as it was in the late 12th century.

At the east end of the cathedral, I have begun reconstructions of the south-east treasury attached to the chapel of the holy well/south-east vestibule, the north-east vestibule, and the long-lost passage and chapel of St. Nicholas. This is just in it's beginning stages though and I am currently fleshing out the proportions of it's ground plan.

The greatest additions that have taken place since the last update are the aforementioned Thomiates hall and undercroft, great baptistery and hypogeum, and portions of the exterior of the dome and great western window above the galleries. What surprised me the most in Dark & Kostenec's work was their conclusion that the great baptistery was almost certainly a rectilinear, basilica style structure. I had been under the impression that it would have been a centrally planned rotunda-like structure, similar to the Orthodox baptistery at Ravenna, however I was completely wrong. The fragmentary remains Dark and Kostenec brought to light almost indisputably prove that the great baptistery was a rectilinear structure, more akin to the baptistery of the church of Panagia Ekatontapiliani on Paros or the baptistery of the episcopal complex of Kourion on Cyprus.

I have also made some progress in the field of lighting, my least favorite part of the building process besides exterior & roof stuff. I've gotten the south-west vestibule, small baptistery, chapel of the holy well, and the Thomiates hall completely illuminated.

As for the general focus of this project, I've taken the advice of marvelfannumber2 (check out his page and builds if you haven't already) and narrowed down the temporal focus of my build. For a while, as I had previously stated in the build description, I had decided to incorporate features of the Hagia Sophia from a myriad of discordant periods of Byzantine history into the build, in order to create a holistic presentation of the entire history of the structure. However, as time went on I realized how silly and unachievable of an idea this was, and how much it spoiled the historical cohesion of the build. As such, I have decided to focus the current iteration of the build on reconstructing the Hagia Sophia as it would have been in the late 12th century, right around the time of St. Anthony of Novgorod's visit. In the future, in order to incorporate elements of the build I have already build that do not date from this period and present a historically accurate view of the cathedral as it was throughout it's history, I hope to use this current build as a springboard for creating five additional maps: Hagia Sophia in the Justinianic era, the Latin era, the Palaiologian era, the early Ottoman era, and the modern era. This will allow me to present all the major historical developments in the Hagia Sophia in an accurate and cohesive manner. Long-term I also hope to enhance these builds with readable Minecraft books placed throughout the structure that will explain the historic & liturgical significance of various elements of the cathedral. For example, explaining the liturgical rituals that took place at the ambo, relating the history & liturgical significance of the Hypogeum & great baptistery, etc. Long-term I also hope to integrate this build into a wider reconstruction of the imperial district of Constantinople.

However, just to cover all my bases so that I don't end up disappointing anyone, all the above prospective builds & additions are tentative, and I could certainly end up not being able to get to a lot of them. Reconstructions like this are extremely time consuming and tedious in nature, and I've already got my hands full with just the 12th century build. I don't want to damage my irl spiritual or domestic life by getting too obsessed with them. Currently I'm already spending 4+ hours building on days when I work on the build, and I could easily see that getting out of hand, if it isn't already lol.

Sorry for not posting for a while. I like to only post/update when I have something substantial to show you guys.

God Bless,


P.S. Marvelfannumber2 and 76Trombones also had questions about how I decided the scaling of the structure, and to be quite honest I'm pretty much playing it by ear with regards to that. With scaling at the beginning of the build I generally try to "feel out" what 1:1 would look like from the perspective of the player and have never really based my scaling off of 1 block= one meter, as when I've tried that it often results in a build that just looks too visually constrained, not allowing for enough detail and doesn't really feel 1:1 perspective-wise in my opinion. I'm sure I'm Mathematically wrong here but generally what I did for scaling was; for example, start by looking at a bunch of irl photos of people standing in the Hagia Sophia next to an interior column, gauge their height in relation to the column, compare that to the 2-block height of the player in Minecraft, and determine the height & scale of the column in Minecraft accordingly. The scale of everything from then onwards was scaled in direct relation to that original determination to maintain absolute cohesion.

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12/02/2022 7:43 am
Level 49 : Master Cake
marvelfannumber2's Avatar
Very cool. Seems like I will no longer be the only one that's actually bothered to make the whole complex around the Hagia Sophia (most reconstructions just leave those other buildings out), which is great.

Love what you did with the Big Baptistery. I considered making it rectangular too, but since rectangular baptisteries are so rare, and not very common in the 6th Century, I decided to make the discovered parts a paraekklesion to the baptistery instead. Good to see an rectilinear interpretation of the baptistery.

I think you should be a bit careful with how you're doing the Thomiates though. There was a balcony there, where the Emperor would distribute coins during the coronation. That big apse you've got there seems like it would get in the way of that.

Also, with regards to the scaling, you should probably just drop the 1:1 suffix. Because I can tell from the screens that it's nowhere near 1:1, in fact it might be closer to 2:1. Nothing wrong with a freestyle scale, you should just give it a correct description.
12/02/2022 3:40 pm
Level 19 : Journeyman Crafter
RandyDandy63's Avatar
Good idea, I think I will just drop the 1:1 in the title on the page.

With regards ro the Thomiates hall, Drs. Dark & Kostenec suggested that it was a domed & apsed structure. Could it be possible that the balcony was situated on either the western or Eastern sides of the structure? Given that the Thomiates hall served as a triclinium/reception hall, I modeled the completely destroyed sections after somewhat contemporary examples, as by the late roman period triclinia were generally apsed structures, in order to facilitate a larger unobstructed central space. Take for example the Leonian triclinium at the Lateran palace or the tetraconch triclinium of Diocletian's palace in Split. There are several other notable examples of apsed late roman triclinia/reception halls that I cannot remember currently.

However, I am definitely open to the Thomiates hall bring a non-apsed structure, as Drs. Dark and Kostenec left that within the realm of possibility in their analysis, and most reconstructions of the Thomiates hall I've seen depict it as a non-apsed structure.
12/02/2022 3:45 pm
Level 49 : Master Cake
marvelfannumber2's Avatar
Given the nature of the distribution ceremony, it would be very odd for them to not use the Augustaion for that, given that it could accommodate very large crowd, an it's from there the Emperor entered the church.

I guess it's possible it could face west, since we don't know much about what was there (though I suspect more rooms for the Patriarchate), but it would be a very strange choice. Definitely wouldn't face east, because the little alley between the Thomiates and the Baptistery is not big enough to host a crowd like that.

Also, Dark's idea that it was domed is solely based off the fact that it was had four arched walls. It's possible, but it could also be a vaulted structure the way I interpreted it. Four arched walls does not necessarily indicate a full dome.
12/02/2022 6:06 pm
Level 19 : Journeyman Crafter
RandyDandy63's Avatar
Good point, although from what I understand it has been found recently that the Augusteon was much farther away from the Patriarchal complex than previously surmised, necessitating either a courtyard or colonnaded avenue to connect the two, as shown in the "Hagia Sophia in it's wider context" section of Dark's book, meaning that the balcony would most likely have separate from the Thomiates hall altogether, more likely being in the Augusteon proper. What would be some resources on this I could use to better understand the structure of the Thomiates hall?
12/02/2022 6:29 pm
Level 49 : Master Cake
marvelfannumber2's Avatar
There is no evidence for where the Augustaion's northern limit was. We have no foundations to support any kind of thesis on that.

The idea that it was much further south is solely based on some water pipes they found there, which somehow has been extrapolated to assume that those pipes may correspond to the northern wall, which seems like a huge leap in logic to me.

Do you have a Discord so we can discuss this in a better way?
12/03/2022 1:58 pm
Level 19 : Journeyman Crafter
RandyDandy63's Avatar
Yeah I can DM it to you
12/02/2022 7:00 am
Level 3 : Apprentice Miner
ManuelCalavera1998's Avatar
WoW thats amazing!
02/06/2022 7:11 pm
Level 19 : Journeyman Crafter
RandyDandy63's Avatar
Update: New screenshots posted, since last posting I have completed some shrines in the aisles, the room over the vestibule and room over the ramp, chapel of the holy well & gate, a good portion of the exterior walls, including the west front, the north and south walls and the exterior walls of the apse
01/27/2022 6:06 pm
Level 19 : Journeyman Crafter
RandyDandy63's Avatar
Update: Sorry for the long hiatus. Since I last posted the following components have been completed: Inner narthex, exonarthex, southwestern vestibule, western Queen's logia above the narthex, atrium, northwestern and southwestern gallery ramps, northwentern vestibule, grand Horos/chandelier, Pantocrator mosaic in dome, and the surviving southwest lesser baptistery/patriarchal reception hall (structure possibly originally served as a reception hall for the patriarchate, later converted to serve as a baptistery for non-imperial baptisms, structure known as the mustafa türbesi today).

Full update with pictures coming soon.
04/07/2021 1:46 am
Level 13 : Journeyman Crafter
KostasMisa's Avatar
Looking forward to the finished build! I can't tell you how excited I am with such attention to detail on this beautiful building. Keep up the good work, here's a diamond from me!
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