Introduction

Located at the south-western slopes of the ancient Acropolis of Bizye and often identified as the town's episcopal church during the Byzantine period, the former church of Hagia Sophia at Vize -- also known as the Ayasofya or Süleyman Paşa Camii -- occupies an important, if somewhat ambiguous position in the history of Byzantine ecclesiastical architecture. Featuring a basilican plan that terminates in three polygonal apses, an imposing central dome, a western narthex, and galleries that stretch the entire length of the building above the side aisles as well as the narthex, the church measures an impressive 25 x 12 meters and follows a type frequently characterized as either an extended cross-domed church or a 'compact domed basilica.' As such, the church at Vize features a building type commonly associated with the so-called 'dark centuries' in the history of Byzantine architecture, stretching from the early seventh through the late ninth centuries. From this period, only a few churches have survived. In the Byzantine capital itself, only the church of Hagia Eirene, restored and partly rebuilt after an earthquake in 740, and Basil I's Nea Ekklesia, preserved in the description of Patriarch Photios, can be cited as examples of the architecture of this period.

More prominent structures have survived in Greece and Asia Minor, namely the church of Dere Ağzi, the church of St. Nicholas at Myra, the Hagia Sophia at Thessalonike, as well as the churches of St. Clemens at Ankara and the Koimesis Church at Nikaia, both now destroyed. There are, however, a number of lesser known buildings from this period in closer proximity to the capital, which have not yet received attention attention in discussions about the development of Byzantine architecture in the capital. Among these churches, which include the Fatih Camii at Trilye (modern Zeytinbaği), the church of St. John of the Pelekete Monastery, and the church of the Archangels at Sige, and others, the most important and best preserved is undoubtedly the church of Hagia Sophia at Vize. A thorough archaeological exploration, documentation and analysis of this building will not only provide an important contribution to the study of Byzantine architecture during the so-called 'dark centuries', but will help to raise awareness for the preservation of a structure that is in immediate danger of collapse and destruction.