Great Palace Mosaic Museum: History
Once located in today’s Sultan Ahmet District, the Great Palace of Constantinople was built by Constantine the Great. The Palace area extended from Hippodrome to the coastline. Destroyed in Nika Riot in the 6th century, the Great Palace was rebuilt by Justinian I. The mosaics, decorating the floors of the museum today date back to that restoration time. The mosaics are just one seventh of the original work.
The Great Palace was a complex with libraries, churches, meeting halls and even a stadium. It was also the administration building of Constantinople and surrounded by churches and palaces like Daphne and Kathisma Palaces. The Palace was entered by the Bronze Gate, aka Chalke. The building went under restorations under Basil I and Justinian II. After the conquest of the city, the Palace was used as a prison.
The mosaics of the Palace were discovered during the excavations between ’35-’38 and ’51-’54. Later, in a Turkey-Austria joint project, the mosaics were worked on and in 1987, they were placed in its current preservation hall.
The mosaics, covering the courtyard of the Great Palace, were removed and after a long process of restoration including the re-attachment of the mosaics with a special kind of wax and mortar. The mosaics were cleansed and polished again.
The Great Palace Mosaic Museum was inaugurated in 1987. The mosaics in the museum mostly depict the animals and humans in nature , mythological, pastoral motifs and hunting scenes.
Great Palace Mosaic Museum: Mosaics
List of Mosaics
1. Shepherd carrying a lamb: In this mosaic, the shepherd who is known as “the Good Shepherd” carries his lamb on his back.
2. There is a fisherman sitting on a shore and holds a rod with a fish. There is also a fish basket and the remains of a second fisherman.
3. The gooseherds: A boy and a girl herding two geese are depicted in this mosaic.
4. Herdsman milking a goat: An old bearded shepherd is milking his goat and a boy is holding a milk jug. This scene reflects the pastoral life.
5. A man is feeding his mule.
6. In this mosaic, two children are seated on a dromedary and one of them with a wreath around his head is holding a bird in one hand and reins with the other hand. There is also a guide in front of them.
7. Hoop-trundling: Four children are trundling hoops in this mosaic panel. Hoop-trundling was a popular sport and believed to be healthy activity. Two boys are wearing blue shawls while the other two wearing green ones, which represents the rivalry of ‘the Blues’ and ‘the Greens’ -two political fractions of the time.
8. Small boy and his dog: the boy who has a larger head compared to his body is petting his dog. He wears a red tunic and he is bare-footed.
9. Mother and the dog: A mother is breastfeeding his baby. The scene is a representation of the depiction of Isis with her child Horus. A dog on the left of the woman is looking at her with its raised head.
10. A woman figure carrying a jug on her shoulder.
11. A philosopher sitting on a rock.
12. The donkey and its owner: A donkey is kicking its owner with its back feet up in the air.
13. The fight between a hunter and a wounded leopard.
14. Hunting the tiger: Two hunters with sleeveless tunics with badges on have spears on their hands. They are thought to be the guards of the Palace.
15. A hunter carries a sword , a shield and a spear.
16. Hunting Rabbits: The dogs are attacking the rabbits on its neck and abdomen. The hunter is depicted to have just released the dogs.
17. The Lion and The Elephant: The elephant is depicted as attacking a male lion around the lion’s neck with its trunk.
18. The stag and the snake: In some ancient texts, the stag is seen as a rival of the snake. It can also draw a snake out of its hole with its breath. the deer was also a symbol of fertility and the animal of Artemis.The stag is illustrated with an erect penis in the scene. And the snake is curled around the stag’s body.
19. The Eagle and the Snake: The eagle with its wings up has caught the snake which is rolled around the eagle’s body. It is the symbol of victory of light over darkness. It is a widely used motif from Roman times.
20. Leopard hunting a deer
21. Bear hunting a lamb
22. Leopards hunting a deer.
23. The struggle of lion.
24. This lion griffin has an eagle head with manes, a body of a lion and wings. It is depicted as attacking a deer on the back, and bloods are dripping from its claws.
25. The tigriss-griffin: This tigriss(female) Griffin has two horns and wings and a wild look in its face. Crimson drops of blood come out of its mouth.
26. The lion-griffin has an eagle head and wings and a long tail.
27. The Bear Family: In this mosaic panel, we see a group of bear. One is climbing an apple tree, one is eating an apple and one of them is attacking a man who falls on his knees.
28. Stallion, Mare and Foal: This scene symbolizes rural life. They all have smaller heads compared to their bodies.
29. The Monkey as a Bird-Catcher: The monkey under a date tree is holding a long stick in his hands and trying to catch birds. He has a wooden cage on its back wtih a bird on it. Monkeys are known to have been used in some chores.
30. Animals are grazing.
31. Bellerophon and the Chimaera: Chimaera is the monster with three heads( the lion-head with tree forked-tongue, the snake-head as the tail, and a goat-head on its back) Bellerophon is attacking the lion with its spear on his horse- Pegasus, which is destroyed mostly. You can see just the feet of Pegasus and spear of Bellerophon.
32. The child Dionysos Riding on Pan’s shoulder: Dionysos, the God of wine is depicted as a child on the shoulders of Pan, the God of satyrs and herds. It is half-goat and half-man. Dionysos has a wreath of leaves on his head and holds the horns of Pan. They are followed by an elephant with a man on it.
33. Workers in the field.
34. A wellhouse.
35. The okapi-headed Leopard-Griffin.
36. Mounted huntsman in oriental garb hunting gazelles.
37. Hunting the lion with bow and arrow.
38. Reclining woman and branch of a tree (South western hall)
39. Mountain Goats. (South western hall)
40. Lioness and cub. (South western hall)
41. Marten and its prey.
42. Leg of a Hunter. (South western hall)
43. Wolf attacking a flock of sheep.
44. Hunter and Dog – South western hall.
45. Detail from a portrait.
46. Flight of Birds.
47. The figure of mustachioed mask.
48. Mask figure with acanthus beard.
49. Details from the pastoral compositions in the Great Palace mosaics.