ISTANBUL — Given that it was crafted in the sixth century, altering fingers from empire to empire, Hagia Sophia has been a Byzantine cathedral, a mosque below the Ottomans and lastly a museum, earning it 1 of the world’s most potent symbols of Christian-Muslim rivalry and of Turkey’s much more modern devotion to secularism.
Now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is producing moves to declare it a doing the job mosque as soon as far more, satisfying a aspiration for himself, his supporters and conservative Muslims considerably beyond Turkey’s shores — but threatening to established off an intercontinental furor.
The extremely notion of transforming the monument’s position has escalated tensions with Turkey’s longtime rival, Greece upset Christians about the entire world and established off a refrain of dismay from political and religious leaders as numerous as Secretary of Point out Mike Pompeo and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Mr. Erdogan’s opponents say he has lifted the concern of restoring Hagia Sophia as a mosque each time he has faced a political disaster, making use of it to stir supporters in his nationalist and conservative spiritual base.
But offered the severity of the troubles Mr. Erdogan faces immediately after 18 a long time at the helm of Turkish politics, there could be more reason than ever to choose the communicate significantly. Getting misplaced Istanbul in regional elections very last year, the president has watched the standing of his bash continue to slide in the polls as the Covid-19 pandemic has additional undone a susceptible economic system.
On July 2, a Turkish administrative court dominated on regardless of whether to restore Hagia Sophia, or Ayasofya, its Turkish identify, as a mosque, and revoke an 80-yr previous decree that declared it a museum less than Turkey’s secular point out. The ruling will be announced in just two months, and then Mr. Erdogan is expected to make the remaining determination.
For additional than 25 a long time considering the fact that he grew to become mayor of Istanbul, Mr. Erdogan has been doing work to depart his stamp on his beloved home town. He cleaned up the Golden Horn, crafted bridges and tunnels throughout the well known waters and positioned new mosques at the most prominent web sites.
But it is Hagia Sophia, just one of the oldest and architecturally one of the most extraordinary cathedrals in the world, that commands delight of location on the historical peninsula.
Done in 537 Advert, Hagia Sophia stood for almost a millennium at the heart of the Christian earth, crowning the fabled metropolis of Constantinople. It is unsurpassed for its grandeur and huge dome.
In 1453, Mehmed II conquered Constantinople, and despite the fact that his troops plundered what they could have, the developing was saved and turned into a mosque. For 500 several years it was the venerated centre of the Muslim Ottoman Empire.
Turks record with pleasure that Ottoman rulers doted on the good developing, assigning the most effective architects to embellish it. Minarets were added, and later the good Ottoman architect Sinan constructed substantial buttresses to reduce the partitions from buckling less than the fat of the dome, which was damaged in earthquakes.
With the slide of the Ottoman Empire, the standing of Hagia Sophia modified all over again. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the present day secular republic of Turkey, ended the role of religion in the condition and closed religious establishments. Byzantine church buildings, such as Hagia Sophia, have been built into museums, ending their spiritual function and opening them up for tourism, conservation and analyze.
But Mr. Erdogan’s supporters speak of the making as the third holiest internet site in Islam, after the Grand Mosque of Mecca and Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and insist that at the time a mosque it really should hardly ever be unconsecrated.
Mr. Erdogan, who arrives from a conservative Muslim tradition, has overseen a continuous chipping absent of the secular policies of the Ataturk republic, with a concerted effort to revive the glories of the Ottoman period.
At the close of May well, he gave his strongest signal nevertheless on Hagia Sophia, as he opened — remotely, due to the fact of the coronavirus — a ceremony and sound-and-mild display to commemorate the 567th anniversary of the conquest of Constantinople by the Muslim army of Mehmed II the Conqueror.
For the to start with time in far more than 80 several years, an imam seated on a carpeted dais before a duplicate of the Quran recited the verse identified as the Conquest surah, which celebrates the Treaty of Hudaibiyah among the persons of Mecca and Medina.
The recitation upset quite a few. The Overseas Ministry of Greece, which sees by itself as the heir to the Byzantine Empire — which was Greek-speaking and Christian — denounced it as unacceptable and a breach of Hagia Sophia’s standing as a planet heritage web page less than UNESCO.
The ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, who is the non secular chief of the Eastern Orthodox Church from his seat in Istanbul, stated the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque would disappoint hundreds of thousands of Christians all over the globe and would divide Muslims and Christians when it experienced been a area of worship for both.
“We consider it as harmful,” he stated in a sermon previous 7 days, “for Hagia Sophia, which, owing to its determination to the Knowledge of God is a issue of encounter and a supply of fascination for the devoted of both equally religions, to grow to be, in the 21st century, a lead to of confrontation and conflict.”
He urged the Turks to honor what he described as their obligation to the entire world. “The Turkish folks have the great accountability and the highest honor to give prominence to the universality of this beautiful monument,” he mentioned.
Mr. Pompeo urged Turkey just before the court listening to to respect the diverse traditions and faiths of Turkey’s historical past and keep Hagia Sophia as a museum obtainable to all.
Numerous in Turkey see the overall debate as a political ploy by Mr. Erdogan to continue to be ahead of his several rivals, primarily as previous users of his Justice and Development Social gathering have damaged away to variety their very own political get-togethers and threaten to attract absent some of his conservative Muslim foundation.
He has produced it a nationalist concern, lashing out at Greece for interfering in his country’s affairs and insisting that Turkey was continuing in accordance to the legislation.
“Is it you taking care of Turkey or us?” he stated. “Turkey has its very own establishments.”
His nationalist coalition ally Devlet Bahceli weighed in with a speech on the similar day: “Hagia Sophia is the conquest Mosque of the Muslim Turkish country. This fact will not transform.”
“This displays that there is some thing catching fireplace, a thing burning in the dynamics of this nation,” Mr. Erdogan extra.
Even a previous member of Mr. Erdogan’s cupboard, Ertugrul Gunay, who served as minister of culture for 5 years, reported Mr. Erdogan was creating a fanfare in excess of Hagia Sophia only to show he was still learn of Istanbul after his electoral decline.
“The require to be a lot more visible in Istanbul and to declare ownership of sure rituals about record and religion emerged,” he said in a television interview.
“There are multitudes of grand mosques spread through Istanbul,” he added in a textual content message. “This dialogue of Hagia Sophia to be converted to a mosque accomplished by the conservatives of Turkey is an previous and pointless dialogue.”
Beyond politics, artwork historians and conservationists fear that they will get rid of access for review and investigate if the monument turns into a working mosque, and vacationer businesses and metropolis authorities fear that website visitors will be deterred from coming. The monument is the most visited vacationer web-site in Turkey, with 3.7 million guests past 12 months.
“I am additional intrigued in preserving Hagia Sophia as a cultural treasure,” claimed Zeynep Ahunbay, a conservation architect who has labored on the scientific committee for Hagia Sophia for 25 yrs. “The ideal way to preserve and present it is by the museum functionality.”
The best be concerned is what will happen to the incomparable medieval mosaics, among them depictions of Christ, the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist, together with exceptional portraits of imperial figures together with Emperor Justinian I and Empress Zoe, one of the several women of all ages to rule in her individual right.
The mosaics have been whitewashed for the more than 5 hundreds of years through Ottoman rule — the depiction of the human sort becoming viewed as idolatry — and ended up uncovered and restored only soon after Hagia Sophia was turned into a museum in the 1930s.
“We really do not know what will occur to the mosaics and frescos,” reported Faruk Pekin, founder of Fest Journey, which specializes in cultural excursions and led 80 nighttime tours of Hagia Sophia final year.
A person of the delights of touring the building at evening, he claimed, was that the dome appears to be even bigger and the gold mosaics gleam far more brilliantly in the dim light-weight. Readers shell out double for the nighttime tour, and most of his consumers are Turkish, he mentioned.
If the museum will become a mosque, the mosaics will have to be included during Muslim prayers someway, which includes seraphs significant up at the base of the dome. Tourists and non-Muslims may possibly be restricted to particular spots, he said.
“I nevertheless hope it will not come about.”