From church to mosque to museum to mosque once again, Istanbul’s 1,500-calendar year-old speculate proceeds to be one of the world’s most sizeable cultural landmarks.
| POSTED ON: August 24, 2020
The Hagia Sophia, a single of the world’s architectural marvels, overlooks the Bosporus in Istanbul. Image By: Murat Tueremis, Laif/Redux
It is a UNESCO Environment Heritage site, the nation’s major vacationer attract, and the contested spiritual centre of both Christian and Muslim empires.
In mid-2020, Turkey moved to change the 1,500-calendar year-previous Hagia Sophia, a museum since 1934, into a mosque. The awe-inspiring edifice, constructed as an Orthodox cathedral and later on used for generations as a mosque, has been a focus on in modern a long time for spiritual groups searching for to restore it as a Muslim worship web page.
The improve came as a surprise to numerous UNESCO mentioned it wasn’t consulted. The Jap Orthodox Church and Greece, household to thousands and thousands of Orthodox worshippers, were shocked. “The nationalism displayed by President Erdogan … can take his region back six hundreds of years,” Greek Tradition Minister Lina Mendoni explained. In his Sunday prayer, Pope Francis claimed he was “very saddened.” Many others expressed concern about the gorgeous Byzantine mosaics and paintings.
Experts mentioned the internet site may possibly take care of to operate through modifications and keep on being a vacationer centre. “Our principal problem is that the authorities be certain good conservation and community accessibility to the web site,” says Jonathan Bell, vice-president of programs for the World Monuments Fund. “I personally feel like it can totally exist as a put of worship and nonetheless satisfy its function as a earth heritage website, as very long as there are other safeguards in place.”
Treasured by Two Faiths
The Hagia Sophia that stands currently was crafted in the sixth century as the cathedral for the money of the Jap Roman Empire (also referred to as the Byzantine Empire), and it turned a mosque in 1453 with the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. It remained a Muslim property of worship until 1934, when the Turkish government turned it into a museum. Much more than 50 a long time afterwards, UNESCO involved Hagia Sophia as component of its Historic Areas of Istanbul Entire world Heritage Web site.
The architectural marvel—celebrated for its Byzantine architecture, elaborate mosaics, and spiritual significance to Christians and Muslims—attracts hundreds of thousands of people every calendar year extra than 3.7 million in 2019. Now, “it continues to be unclear to cultural heritage professionals … how, if at all, the World Heritage web page could be altered or modified,” studies National Geographic’s Kristin Romey.
On July 10, Turkey’s Council of Condition, the country’s large administrative courtroom, ruled in favour of a religious group’s situation proclaiming that the 1934 selection to secularise Hagia Sophia was unlawful for the reason that the historic edifice was continue to the personal home of Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II, who conquered Constantinople. Many days afterwards, NPR claimed that Hagia Sophia held its initially prayers inside of, and Turkey’s president declared that the mosque would continue to be open to all readers, regardless of faith or nationality.
But the foreseeable future of Hagia Sophia continues to be murky. Many of Turkey’s neighbouring countries—including Greece and Russia—have denounced its determination, stating that the making, as a museum, symbolised the coexistence of Christianity and Islam, a cultural junction among East and West.
UNESCO introduced a assertion expressing the organisation “deeply regrets the conclusion of the Turkish authorities, designed with out prior discussion, and calls for the common worth of World Heritage to be preserved.” Beneath the Environment Heritage constitution, any modification of the building’s position calls for prior notification by Turkey to UNESCO and then, if necessary, an assessment by the World Heritage Committee, Romey experiences.
On the other hand, the return of Hagia Sophia to a position of active worship would not necessarily preclude Entire world Heritage status. Approximately 20 per cent of the thousand-additionally houses inscribed on the World Heritage List have a spiritual or religious connection, like Vatican City and the Jameh Mosque of Ishfahan, Iran.
Rise of Hagia Sophia
It was Byzantine Emperor Justinian I who purchased the construction of Hagia Sophia (that means “holy wisdom” in Greek). At the time, it was the major interior room in the earth. When the making grew to become a mosque, several adjustments were manufactured.
In buy to align with Islamic beliefs, quite a few of Hagia Sophia’s chic will work of art were plastered more than during Mehmed II’s rule of the Ottoman Empire from 1451 to 1481. Daring flowing strains of Arabic calligraphy on hanging roundels and a lovely marble mihrab, indicating the route of Mecca, replaced the grand mosaics of 6-winged angels and other Christian figures.
Just after the museum designation, staff executed intensive renovations, this kind of as diligently chipping away plaster to expose hidden mosaics. They can be partly seen—sparkling with glints of gold tile—along the large higher gallery. Now, with the building’s most current change in standing, Turkish officers say that all imagery depicting Christian figures in the most important hall will be hid with curtains through prayer time.
What to Know Before You Visit
Dominating Istanbul’s skyline, Hagia Sophia sits in the centre of the Sultanahmet District, across from the Blue Mosque and a small walk from the Topkapi Palace. At the time of its unique design, as tour guides will inform you, men and women believed that the church was so spectacular that it ought to have had divine assistance to help in its crafting.
While lots of venture to the historic composition to gaze on its interior marvels, the mosque’s exterior is worth exploration as well. The four minarets of Hagia Sophia, the fountain of Sibyan (elementary) college, the clock place, and the treasury constructing are iconic features of the structure’s daring style and design. The mausoleums of Ottoman Sultans, located outdoors the building, are equally intriguing to take a look at.
Guests are nevertheless welcome to Hagia Sophia, which stays the country’s most well-liked tourist attraction. In accordance to the hottest assertion built by the Turkish govt, no entrance rate will be billed and all mosaics will be uncovered, besides all through worship, when the making will shut an hour ahead of the prayer time and reopen half an hour soon after.
To go through and subscribe to our magazine, head to Magzter or our new Countrywide Geographic Traveller India app in this article.