What Will Happen Now to Hagia Sophia’s Byzantine Mosaics?

The Mosaic of the Apse

Well. He’s done it. Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has pushed through his plans to annul the status of Hagia Sophia as a museum and turn it back into a mosque. We are all saddened. There is worldwide dismay and outrage. We can but hope that one day this decision will be revoked. In the meantime we must all be worrying that the beautiful mosaics will not be damaged. Greek Reporter and Hurriyet report that curtains may be installed to cover them during prayer.

We can have some idea based upon what happened at the smaller Hagia Sophia in the eastern port city of Trabzon as reported in the Economist:

It was born as a church, one of the icons of the Byzantine world, before being converted into a mosque by the Ottoman Turks and into a museum by their secular-minded successors. But now it would be transformed again. Workers squeezed a bland wooden minbar into a corner of the nave and a mihrab into a nearby portico, drew panels and screens to obscure the dazzling 13th-century Christian frescoes looking down from the vaults and the dome, and unfurled a red carpet over the marble floor. A muezzin summoned the faithful to prayers. The Hagia Sophia was now a mosque.

That was in 2013, and not in Istanbul, home of the Hagia Sophia known to millions of tourists worldwide, but in Trabzon, another Turkish city once populated by Greeks (and known in English as Trebizond), home to the ancient shrine’s much smaller and younger namesake. There are at least five former Byzantine churches dedicated to the Hagia Sophia (“Holy Wisdom” in Greek) across Turkey. Over the past decade, four, including the one in Trabzon, have reopened as mosques. The same fate now awaits the most important of them, the sixth-century Hagia Sophia, the grand old lady of Eastern Christendom, and Istanbul’s domed crown.

Greek Reporter tells us more:

Following Turkey’s decision to annul the 1934 conversion of Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia into a museum, paving the way for its reconversion into a mosque, questions are asked about the fate of numerous mosaics that decorate several of its interior walls.

Many social media users are expressing horror at the thought of Hagia Sophia being turned into a mosque, with the ancient mosaics would be covered up — or even worse — removed.

Turkey’s daily Hurriyet reported that the mosaics will be covered up with specially-designed curtains during Muslim prayers and that visitors would be asked to take off their shoes before entering, as is the case with all mosques.

The original mosaics were not destroyed by the Ottoman conquerors but merely covered up when the city was captured in 1453. When Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum, they were uncovered so that visitors would enjoy them.

Some of the mosaics in Hagia Sophia are considered masterpieces, and they serve as a catalogue of Byzantine art. The motifs used in the creation of the mosaics were mostly imperial portraits and images of Christ.

Among them is the “Mosaic of the Apse,” completed during the 9th century, which decorates the half-dome located behind the altar. It is a representation of Virgin Mary sitting on a backless throne, with the baby Jesus seated on her lap.

It is set against a gleaming golden background to create a strong contrast with the dark color of her clothing.

he mosaic called the “Pantakrator” or “Almighty”

Another masterpiece is the “Pantakrator” mosaic decorated with the figure of Jesus, located on the top of the Imperial Gate. It shows Jesus blessing the world with his right hand and carrying the scriptures in his left hand.

The following Greek words are written on the Bible: “May Peace Be with You. I Am the Divine Light.”

Hagia Sophia’s “Deesis” Mosaic

The world famous “Deesis” mosaic, which is regarded as the beginning of a renaissance in Byzantine art, is located on the western wall of Hagia Sophia’s Northern Gallery.

John the Baptist is portrayed on the right side and the Virgin Mary on the left side of Jesus, who is in the middle in this important piece of Byzantine art.

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Interested in Byzantium and Patrick Leigh Fermor
This entry was posted in Byzantium in the News, Commentary & Politics, Istanbul and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to What Will Happen Now to Hagia Sophia’s Byzantine Mosaics?

  1. toritto says:

    Sad indeed. Best regards from Florida.

  2. artandarchitecturemainly says:

    I wonder why the mosaics were covered and not destroyed in 1453 – love of the art? Respect for a different religion? Too busy with more important tasks? Even the gleaming gold backgrounds seem to have been well protected.

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