- ISTANBUL’s HAGIA SOPHIA – (AYASOFYA) – TO RETURN TO BEING A MASJID… (?)
The future of the amazingly-popular Ayasofya Museum – originally a Christian Church built by the Byzantine Emperor of Easter Rome – Justinian 1st – in the 6th Century AD – was determined during a half-hour hearing at a court building in Ankara, last Thursday.
Although the decision of the Council of State’s 10th Chamber will not be known for up to two weeks, it could pave the way for the former cathedral and UNESCO World Heritage site to return to its post 14th century fall-of-Constantinople use as a mosque.
• From its consecration and for the next 800 years or so, this amazing piece of engineering had not only stood as the World’s largest building but had acted as the lode-stone and core anchoring-point for Christianity.
Originally known as Hagia Sophia – from the Greek for “Holy Wisdom” – it had represented the Greek Orthodox version of Christianity and been the seat of the Patriarch.
Built in 537 AD, the construction of its huge dome had presented a number of issues over the years – including its one-time collapse and initiating the requirement for the addition of its massive, currently visible, external buttresses…
The resolution of such problems during its construction had formed the foundation for many changes to architectural thinking that had subsequently occurred over the ensuing years: taking over, as it were, where the Western Roman builders had rested on their laurels and been pretty much eclipsed following the sack of Rome by Alaric and his horde of Visigoths in 410 AD…
The Emperor Justinian had commissioned the geometers – Isodore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles – to undertake the design and oversee the construction – which, surprisingly – when compared to the 40, 60 or even more years that later Western European cathedrals had often taken to be completed – was finished in just over 5 years…!
Built of masonry and mortar joints that are 15 x the width of the bricks, it is perhaps because of this that the building has survived for so long and in such an intact manner – as the Romans had indeed mastered the secret of a kind of mortar-mix that had included minute particles of ceramic and whose qualities of durability have only very recently been re-discovered: proving itself to have been almost as durable as stone itself.
• Except for a brief moment in its history when it had been converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire established by the Fourth Crusaders – (between 1204 and 1261) – once Constantinople had finally fallen to the siege and sack by Mehmet ll and his Turkic hordes, in 1453 – the building had been immediately converted into a place of worship for the Muslims.
Naturally, all symbolism related to Christianity – the bells, altar, iconostasis and other relics were either destroyed or plastered-over: though, thankfully, nowadays, having been restored as a museum, great efforts had been made to restore many of these originally beautiful and luminously decorated mosaics made either at the time of Justinian or during the ensuing years and which can be seen today.
Instead of these Christian logotypes and other iconic, visual foci for the religion, the Muslims installed a Mihrab (Makkah-directed alcove), a beautiful – still extant – Minbar (pulpit) and four minarets to the building’s external corners.
Closed in 1931, for the ensuing years – on the orders of the then President, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – it had nevertheless remained as a Masjid until late 1934
Following which, the relatively more enlightened, secular-thinking of the Ataturk Modernist government had turned it into a museum – as a “factual examplar” of how the Turkish State and its Religion should become separated: in much the same way as other Western countries had long practised.
Since that time, Aya Sophia has literally welcomed MILLIONS of visitors from all over the world who have each marvelled and enjoyed the esoteric combination of a Christian Architecture in which Muslim thematics and emblems have also been embedded – offering a truly remarkable ambiance within a nowadays generically neutral space that celebrates not only the accomplishments of ancient architects and craftsmen but also an unusual, yet strangely harmonious blend of ecumenical diversity.
Bottom line: whether Aya Sophia remains as a museum or returns to being a masjid, this is definitely ONE building in the whole World to which it would be highly recommend that any visit would be thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated.
• That said, the verdict is not yet public on whether this initiative by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – who desperately needs some form of side-show to take people’s mind’s off their growing dissatisfaction with his policies, his lousy economic handling, his move away from the former Ataturk-inspired State Religion separation and his almost psychotic investment in chasing anyone who doesn’t actually agree with his intention to be a Putin-like Dictator-for-Life – will go ahead.
As has been said elsewhere:
“So far, the alluring prospect of converting Hagia Sophia has served Erdogan well to divert the attention of his voter base away from his political and economic failures. By the same token, Erdogan’s readiness to fire his one silver bullet by converting the Hagia Sophia to save the day is a clear sign of the severity of his current political predicaments.”
As it is, there have already been past precedents – since 2011 – for such re-conversions.
Therefore, the consensus opinion is that – unfortunately and most probably – he will have it happen…
If the fact that there are – supposedly – some 8000 internal-to-Germany, pro-Erdogan spies actively harassing any of the 4 million Turkish immigrants who form a major sector within the country’s immigrant population – is any kind of a generic indication, it might well appear that most of the people who DARE to oppose Erdogan’s heavy-handedness have already left Turkey and that only the cowed and herd-like “Baa-Baas” remain to form any kind of dissenting movement…
… Which they don’t – out of fear of being “neutralised” in whatever manner.
… Which is somewhat of a shame as, up until Erdogan’s self-serving Presidency with his Empire-building “Idées de Grandeur” – though Turkish culture has always been perceived as being somewhat “aggressive” in terms of the non-respect of Human Rights – the ordinary people were, and still are, just as lovely as anywhere else in the world when one can manage to strip-away ideologies of whatever nature and talk to another human on a normalised, “Soul”-level…
• WORLD REACTION
As the date for the Court to make a final decision had approached, Christians around the world had called on Turkey to back away from reclaiming the building which had – in terms of subliminal PR – proved to be one of the country’s leading showcases for Islam.
The spiritual head of Orthodox Christianity, Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, had stressed its importance as a symbol of “mutual understanding and solidarity between Christianity and Islam.”
He had also added that the change would “turn millions of Christians across the world against Islam.”
Meanwhile, the Orthodox Church in Greece said a switch would “provoke strong protest and frustration among Christians worldwide” and Russian co-religionists warned it would “violate fragile inter-confessional balances.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Turkey to retain Hagia Sophia’s museum status “as an exemple of its commitment to respect the faith traditions and diverse history that contributed to the Republic of Turkey”.
The Greek government also objected to any change, with Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias claiming it would be a “severe blow” to Turkey’s image.
• However, such international intervention typically drew criticism from various figures within Turkey’s ruling party.
“We do not need anyone’s advice or recommendation on our own affairs,” said Numan Kurtulmus, the party’s vice-chair, while Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also stressed it was a sovereign matter. “What is important is what the Turkish people want,” he had stated during a television interview.
In an open letter, dozens of academics raised concerns about the stewardship of the building. “Hagia Sophia is too beautiful a monument and too precious a historical document to serve as a pawn in regional politics,” had been then generalised theme of their comments.
• Whether the reflected outcome will be experienced as the result of either a political or an ecumenical decision, the Turkish media has speculated that the multi-domed structure could open as a mosque on July 15 – the fourth anniversary of a coup attempt against Mr Erdogan.
Whatever the decision, Aya Sophia – along with its shadow-mirror, the Sultan Ahmed “Blue Mosque” – will most likely still continue to be one of the dominant structures crowning the skyline of the Golden Horn and the Topkapi Palace for hopefully many more centuries to come.
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