360 Degree Virtual Tours of the Hagia Sophia

Last year, when Turk­ish pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that Hagia Sophia would be recon­vert­ed into a mosque, he assured a con­cerned UNESCO that changes to the 1,500-year-old for­mer cathe­dral-turned-mosque would have “no neg­a­tive impact” on its sta­tus as World Her­itage Site. “A state must make sure that no mod­i­fi­ca­tion under­mines the out­stand­ing uni­ver­sal val­ue of a site list­ed on its ter­ri­to­ry,” the world body has said. Claims to the con­trary notwith­stand­ing, the “uni­ver­sal val­ue” of the site does seem to have been under­mined.

Des­ig­nat­ed a muse­um by the sec­u­lar Turk­ish Repub­lic in 1934, the site con­tains hun­dreds of years of his­to­ry for both the Chris­t­ian and Islam­ic worlds, and the shared her­itage between them in the shift­ing mix of peo­ples who con­quered, set­tled, and moved through the city first called Byzan­tium, then Con­stan­tino­ple, then Istan­bul.

“The World Her­itage site was at the cen­tre of both the Chris­t­ian Byzan­tine and Mus­lim Ottoman empires and is today one of Turkey’s most vis­it­ed mon­u­ments,” Reuters not­ed last year.

The mosque is open to the pub­lic for prayers, and any­one can vis­it. What they’ll find — as you can see in this recent tour video — is ugly green car­pet­ing cov­er­ing the floor, and screens, pan­els, and ply­wood obscur­ing the Byzan­tine Chris­t­ian art. (The same thing was done in the small­er Hagia Sophia in the city of Tra­b­zon.) These changes are not only dis­tress­ing for UNESCO, but also for lovers of art and his­to­ry around the world, myself includ­ed, who had hoped to one day see the mil­len­nia-and-a-half of blend­ed reli­gious and aes­thet­ic tra­di­tions for them­selves.

It’s pos­si­ble Turk­ish pol­i­tics will allow Hagia Sophia to return to its sta­tus as a muse­um in the future, restor­ing its “uni­ver­sal val­ue” for world his­to­ry and cul­ture. If not, we can still vis­it the space vir­tu­al­ly — as it was until last year — in the 360 degree video views above, both of which allow you to look around in any direc­tion as they play. You can also swiv­el around a spher­i­cal panoram­ic image at 360 cities.

The BBC video at the top nar­rates some of the sig­nif­i­cant fea­tures of the incred­i­ble build­ing, once the largest church in the world, includ­ing its “col­ored mar­ble from around the Roman Empire” and “10,000 square meters of gold mosa­ic.” Learn much more about Hagia Sophia his­to­ry in the video above from Khan Academy’s exec­u­tive direc­tors (and for­mer deans of art and his­to­ry), Dr. Steven Zuck­er and Dr. Beth Har­ris.

Relat­ed Con­tent:  

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

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

Istan­bul Cap­tured in Beau­ti­ful Col­or Images from 1890: The Hagia Sophia, Top­ka­ki Palace’s Impe­r­i­al Gate & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • G Matheson says:

    I vis­it­ed twice in August. At least the green car­pet is vac­u­umed con­stant­ly and before pray begins for the hand­ful of wor­shipers men in dark secu­ri­ty-look­ing uni­forms uncer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly chase peo­ple away with larg­er san­i­tiz­ing sprayers like mos­qui­toes. At least the chil­dren can have fun jump­ing over the taught vac­u­um cords. Lest we get dan­ger­ous­ly close to the apse there are long col­lapsi­ble met­al secu­ri­ty gates keep­ing one at a safe dis­tance; not only here in the cen­tral part of the nave, but thank­ful­ly every oth­er key place avail­able for wor­ship. As an aid to med­i­ta­tion the plush but sen­si­bly piled car­pet dead­ens all sound with­in the once holy realm as those annoy­ing acoustics are now a thing of the past. Thought­ful for the wheel­chair-bound vis­i­tor, the old treach­er­ous ramp to the gallery and famed mosaics is closed so no need to wor­ry about acci­dents. What will they think of next!

  • Pınar Akın says:

    Aya­so­fya, ben­im evimdir ve izin­siz olarak giren hırsızdır, günahkardır, ve bedel öder. Sözde müs­lü­man­ların, ibadet­leri­ni, Allah, yıl­lardır, bu, yüz­den kab­ul etmiy­or. Dünyalılar, baş­ka bedeller de ödeye­cek. ben gök­lere ait olan yüce biriy­im. Bana muhale­fet eden, Allah’a isyan etmiş sayılır. Aya­so­fya’­da kab­ul olmayan ibadet­leri­ni gös­ter­iş için yapan, sözde müs­lü­man artık­ları, değer­siz dur, elbet. Ben onları affet­meye­ceğim, hakkımı helal etmiy­o­rum. Lan­et olsun, malımı mülkümü haince gas­pe­den­lere!

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