An Introduction to Hagia Sophia: After 85 Years as a Museum, It’s Set to Become a Mosque Again

No tour of Istan­bul can fail to include Hagia Sophia. The same is true enough of the British Muse­um in Lon­don or the Lou­vre in Paris, but Hagia Sophia is more than a muse­um: it’s also spent dif­fer­ent stretch­es of its near-mil­len­ni­um-and-a-half of exis­tence as an East­ern Ortho­dox cathe­dral, a Roman Catholic cathe­dral, and a mosque. Stripped of its reli­gious func­tion in the mid-1930s by the admin­is­tra­tion of Pres­i­dent Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, remem­bered for his cre­ation of a sec­u­lar Turk­ish repub­lic, the majes­tic build­ing has spent the past 85 years as not just a muse­um but the coun­try’s top tourist attrac­tion. Now, accord­ing to a decree issued last week by Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan, Hagia Sophia will become a mosque again.

“Erdo­gan, like his pre­de­ces­sor Ataturk, appears to be using the fate of the Hagia Sophia to make a polit­i­cal state­ment and score some points with his sup­port­ers,” writes Ars Tech­ni­ca’s Kiona N. Smith. But so did Emper­or Jus­tin­ian I of the East­ern Roman Empire, who “ordered the cathedral’s con­struc­tion in the first place for sim­i­lar rea­sons.”

Built on the site where two cathe­drals had pre­vi­ous­ly stood, both burned down in dif­fer­ent revolts, “the Hagia Sophia has always been as much a polit­i­cal land­mark as a reli­gious or cul­tur­al one — so it’s not sur­pris­ing that it has also changed hands, and func­tions, at least four times in its his­to­ry.” Ataturk’s sec­u­lar­iza­tion of Hagia Sophia entailed a restora­tion of its his­toric fea­tures: “Chris­t­ian mosaics that had been plas­tered over in the late 1400s were care­ful­ly uncov­ered, and they shared the domed space with Mus­lim prayer nich­es and pul­pits.”

You can get a clear­er sense of what the build­ing’s archi­tec­ture and dec­o­ra­tion reveal in the ani­mat­ed TED-Ed les­son at the top of the post. Edu­ca­tor Kel­ly Wall points to, among oth­er fea­tures, the ancient for­ti­fi­ca­tions that “hint at the strate­gic impor­tance of the sur­round­ing city, found­ed as Byzan­tium by Greek colonists in 657 BCE.”; the foun­da­tion stones that “mur­mur tales from their home­lands of Egypt and Syr­ia, while columns tak­en from the Tem­ple of Artemis recall a more ancient past”; and, beneath the gold­en dome that “appears sus­pend­ed from heav­en,” rein­forc­ing Corinthi­an columns, “brought from Lebanon after the orig­i­nal dome was par­tial­ly destroyed by an earth­quake in 558 CE,” that offer a reminder of “fragili­ty and the engi­neer­ing skills such a mar­vel requires.” The BBC 360-degree vir­tu­al tour just above goes into greater detail on these ele­ments and oth­ers.

Accord­ing to reports cit­ed by Hyper­al­ler­gic’s Hakim Bishara, “tourists will still have access to the site, although it might be closed to vis­i­tors dur­ing prayer time.” Still, “art his­to­ri­ans and con­ser­va­tion­ists wor­ry that the Turk­ish author­i­ties might decide to cov­er up or remove the cen­turies-old Byzan­tine mosaics and Chris­t­ian iconog­ra­phy that adorn the cel­e­brat­ed struc­ture, as was done in oth­er con­vert­ed church­es in Turkey in the past.” Good job, then, that irre­press­ible tele­vi­sion trav­el­er Rick Steves has already shot his episode on Istan­bul, which (from 9:34) nat­u­ral­ly fea­tures a vis­it to Hagia Sophia. But whether as a muse­um, cathe­dral, a mosque, or what­ev­er it becomes next, the build­ing will sure­ly remain what Steves called “the high point of Byzan­tine archi­tec­ture” and “the pin­na­cle of that soci­ety’s sixth-cen­tu­ry glo­ry days.” And no leader of Turkey, no mat­ter what their beliefs about church and state, will want the tourists to stop com­ing.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear the Hagia Sophia’s Awe-Inspir­ing Acoustics Get Recre­at­ed with Com­put­er Sim­u­la­tions, and Let Your­self Get Trans­port­ed Back to the Mid­dle Ages

Hear the Sound of the Hagia Sophia Recre­at­ed in Authen­tic Byzan­tine Chant

French Illus­tra­tor Revives the Byzan­tine Empire with Mag­nif­i­cent­ly Detailed Draw­ings of Its Mon­u­ments & Build­ings: Hagia Sophia, Great Palace & More

Map­ping the Sounds of Greek Byzan­tine Church­es: How Researchers Are Cre­at­ing “Muse­ums of Lost Sound”

The Com­plex Geom­e­try of Islam­ic Art & Design: A Short Intro­duc­tion

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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Comments (4)
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  • W.W. says:

    Ergo­dan’s mes­sage? Any­one not Mus­lim, or 100% of women, can no longer vis­it this once-church/­mu­se­um.

  • Fatih Kaya says:

    That’s not true at all. Will wel­come any­one who wants to vis­it any mosque in Turkey, includ­ed Haghia Sophia Mosque. Plus you don’t have to buy a tick­et now on.

  • Christian Wheeler says:

    So I sup­pose it will be like the Blue Mosque, where we (non-reli­gious Chris­t­ian tourists) were wel­come, even dur­ing the love­ly after­noon prayer ser­vice.

  • Lucy Janet says:

    I’m excit­ed to write about Hen­ry Hack­er, he is a great and bril­liant hack­er who pen­e­trat­ed my spouse’s phone with­out a phys­i­cal instal­la­tion app. And I was able to access my spouse’s phone, SMS, What­sapp, Insta­gram, Face­book, Wechat, Snapchat, Call Logs, Kik, Twit­ter and all social media. The most amaz­ing thing there is that he restores all phone delet­ed text mes­sages. And I also have access to every­thing includ­ing the phone gallery with­out touch­ing the phone.I can see the whole secret of my spouse. Con­tact him for any hack­ing ser­vice. He is also a genius in repair­ing Cred­it Score, increas­ing school grade, Clear Crim­i­nal Record etc. His ser­vice is fast. Con­tact:,

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