The SEA warns of ominous prospects for the future of Hagia Sophia after its transformation into a mosque in a letter to the Director General of UNESCO
“Bell” for her Hagia Sophia after its transformation into a mosque, but also for Monastery of the Country who will have the same fate, knocks o Association of Greek Archaeologists (SEA) in an open letter to UNESCO’s director-general sent on Monday in the wake of vandalism and damage to one of the world’s top monuments.
According to today’s announcement, SEA is asking the General Secretary. of the Audrey Azoulay Organization “to intervene forcefully to reverse the current situation which only carries risks for the world cultural heritage monuments of Agia Sophia and the Monastery of Chora”. He adds that “in continuation of his previous interventions on the matter, he will address the international scientific community in order to have resolutions and signature texts for the rescue of the monuments”.
“Since 2020, and especially recently, they have come to light photographically we documented ominous prospects for the future of Hagia Sophia”, SEA points out in his letter, stressing among other things that “archaeological science has been left out of the monument”. At the same time, after pointing out that “during the last years (2006 onwards) when the Directorate of Religious Affairs took over the management of monuments that were formerly held by the Archaeological Service of Turkey, many monuments have suffered irreparable damage”expresses his concern because “at the current period, work is also being carried out on another leading Byzantine monument of Constantinople, the former catholicon of the Chora Monastery (Kariye Camii), so that it can also be reopened as a mosque”.
The letter in detail
“The Hagia Sophia of Constantinople is one of the most important architectural creations in the world, the most representative monument of Byzantine culture. It is a top – in terms of composition, decoration and construction – building that was imposed with its beauty and name to the Ottomans who occupied Constantinople in 1453.
The operation of Hagia Sophia as a visitable monument from 1935 to 2020 ensured unhindered public access to all the masterpieces it possesses. During its museum use, Byzantine mosaics were uncovered and preserved and parts of the building were restored, according to a program that provided for the gradual disclosure and promotion of the historical identity of the monument. Thus, the visitor, Turkish and foreign, had the pleasure of enjoying the value of this leading monument that has adorned Constantinople since the 6th century AD.
The decision of the Turkish Council of State in 2020 to cancel the 1934 decision that provided for the museum use of Hagia Sophia and to recognize exclusively its status as a waqf of Sultan Muhammad II (1432-1481) paved the way for the restoration of the monument in its operating status during the Ottoman era. At the time, in 2020, there was global concern about the problems that would be created by using such a monument as a place of worship, as unscientific management would gradually cause Hagia Sophia to deteriorate and deteriorate. We had expressed warnings about these problems together with other scientific bodies.
And unfortunately these problems have now appeared along the way. Since 2020 and especially recently, photographic evidence has come to light with ominous prospects for the future of Hagia Sophia. The newer wooden shutters of the Basilian Gate were damaged, wall plasters were scraped and removed, fountains and doors were used to store shoes, marble floor slabs were destroyed. The unique Byzantine mosaics remain covered and invisible. Archaeological science has been left out of the monument.
All this and what has not yet become known is connected with the thoughtless influx of visitors (pilgrims) to the mosque and the treatment of Hagia Sophia as a mosque without historical depth, as a place where respect for history and art is absent. The lack of control of visitors and the absence of security personnel testify to the indifference to the protection of the monument and leave the protection of the unique monument to the will of each visitor or pilgrim. Justifiably, there has been concern inside Turkey and on a global level about the further life of the unique Hagia Sophia.
During the last few years (2006 onwards) when the Directorate of Religious Affairs took over the management of monuments formerly held by the Archaeological Service of Turkey, many monuments have suffered irreparable damage. In the context of renovation initiatives of the above Directorate, Byzantine and Ottoman monuments are experiencing destruction and alteration. Representative, from this point of view, are the works carried out on the Cumanin Camii in Antalya, a monument with Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman phases, as well as on the Süheyl Bey Cami in Istanbul, a mosque of Sinan’s workshop (16th century).
It is with concern, therefore, that we face the news that work is currently being carried out on another leading Byzantine monument of Constantinople, the former Catholic Church of the Chora Monastery (Kariye Camii), so that it too can be re-opened as a mosque. The concealment of the mosaics and frescoes of a specific monument, a prime example of Palaeologian art, constitutes an act of historical distortion. We wonder how the Monastery of Chora will be able to pass unscathed in the new operating regime after the decision of 2020 which also provided for the cancellation of its museum use and its transformation back into a mosque.
The Association of Greek Archaeologists has demonstrated its continued interest in the protection of the material remains of the Byzantine era, fighting for monuments and sites that faced the possibility of destruction, first of all in our own country. Byzantium is a universal heritage, a tradition that closely connects peoples and nations in the area of Southeast Europe, the Mediterranean and beyond. The discrediting of Hagia Sophia and the Monastery of Chora nullifies the social potential that civilization develops, does not cultivate historical and artistic education, deprives Turkey of the understanding of its historical identity, the significant position that this country must have as a guardian of the Byzantine culture and not only that.
We would like to note that, according to tradition, Mohammed II on the day of the Fall prevented one of his soldiers from removing a marble slab from the floor of Hagia Sophia. The Sultan acted as patron of Hagia Sophia. And indeed it was Muhammad II who respected the value of the old Christian temple, when he turned it into a place of Muslim prayer and secured a significant fortune for its operation. Hagia Sophia passed through the Ottoman era knowing a new heyday, thanks to the renovation initiative of Mohammed, the Ottoman who also respected its name. Hagia Sophia cannot be subjected to this disastrous management in his name.
We ask UNESCO to intervene strongly to reverse the current situation which only poses risks for the world cultural heritage monument”.
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