Hagia Sophia, Trabzon

Hagia Sophia, Trabzon

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The historic Hagia Sophia in Trabzon, Turkey, is an impressive 13th century Byzantine church which now operates as a museum boasting a range of fascinating ancient frescoes.

Originally constructed under the direction of Trebizond Emperor Manuel I between 1238 and 1263 AD, the Hagia Sophia was originally built to serve as a Church and its design reflects late-Byzantine architecture. It acted as such until 1461 when it was converted into a Mosque under the authority of Sultan Mehmed II after the Ottoman conquest of Trabzon, but during the next 400 years or so the building deteriorated rapidly.

By the mid-nineteenth century the Mosque was in desperate need of repair and restoration work began in 1864. However, with the advent of the First World War the once-grand Mosque was subject to a more utilitarian purpose; it was used both as a storehouse and hospital by Russian forces. In 1964, thanks to international co-operation and restoration efforts, the Hagia Sophia was finally opened to the public.

Today the Trabzon Hagia Sophia operates as a museum and visitors can explore the unique art and architecture found withing.

The building itself stands as an example of outstanding Byzantine architecture, containing three naves and three porticoes as well as numerous frescoes depicting Biblical scenes such as the birth, crucifixion and ascension of Jesus Christ, the twelve apostles and the frieze of angels. These frescoes had been covered after the Ottoman conquest and were only revealed during the 20th century restoration. Perhaps the most outstanding piece of decorative art within this group is the bas-relief frieze of Adam and Eve, located to the south.

In addition to the Christian decorative art that can be found throughout the Trabzon Hagia Sophia, there is also an abundance of Islamic art and architecture, including a domed and tiled roof and geometrically designed interlocking medallions, indicative of the Seljuk period. There are also tiles containing the crescent moon and stars as well as other motifs.

The tower was a later addition, when the Church was being converted into a Mosque. Little of the decorative art that was once installed into the Tower remains, although effort has recently been made to restore the paintings on the walls.

[Update Aug 2013: The museum has now closed and the site is now operating as a mosque]

Contributed by Ros Gammie

Trabzon Hagia Sophia Museum

Hagia Sophia, which was used as a mosque today, was built on a terraced high hill on the west entrance of Trabzon. It has a different location and character than other religious buildings in the same period in Trabzon and its region. What was the aim of the church, which is still far away from the city center, to be built entirely outside the city in the 13th century? To the west of the church, it is difficult to think of the 30-meter-tall tower rising as a separate mass from it, as a mere bell tower. According to some researchers, there was a monastery in this area, and in the monastery where the astronomical education was carried out, the church and the tower formed parts of the complex. It can be said that such a high tower was built to observe the celestial bodies necessary for astronomy education. The existence of a monastery here has been proven by the remains of some structures that can be seen in the museum area today. These explanations may correspond to the question of why the building was built outside the city. Even though there is no other historical onstruction in the area, it is still unclear why other units of the monastery have not survived. The tower, which has a three-storey compartment, was renovated after the third floor level. When the function of the monastery is over, we learn that the tower is used as a fishing light for a while, then it functions as a bell tower and is used as a minaret.

Hagia Sophia, the ‘nest’ and ‘infidel’ Atatürk

Hagia Sophia is at the centre of a political controversy in Turkey. The conversion of the museum housed in a 6th century Christian church in Istanbul into a mosque by presidential decree sparked a big debate in the country. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s move is seen as a turning point for the Turkish president, having generated religious, cultural, social and political consequences.

“The Hagia Sophia mosque has become the nest of the enemies of Turkey’s secular republic who are emboldened by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government,” wrote historian Osman Selim Kocahanoğlu in a commentary for Cumhuriyet newspaper. The latest controversy was triggered by Imam Mustafa Demirkan, who, during Friday prayers at Hagia Sophia on May 28, called Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, a “tyrant” and an “infidel.” All that was said in the presence of the Turkish president, who had earlier recited verses from the Quran. Demirkan said that Hagia Sophia was built as a temple, but there was a time in Turkey when the country’s rulers restricted Islamic prayers and turned the site into a museum. “Those who did this are tyrants. Who could be more of an infidel than them?” he said.

The comments sparked a reaction from the president of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu, who said that they are “creating enmity toward Kemal Atatürk and the Turkish Republic.”

This was not the first attack on the founder of the Turkish Republic. When the first Islamic prayer was held on July 24, 2020, Ali Erbaş, head of Turkey’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, spoke from Hagia Sophia’s pulpit, holding a sword in his hand: “In our faith, a property of a charitable trust is inviolable whoever touches it burns. The wish of the benefactor is irrevocable whoever violates it is cursed.” Erbaş’s words were seen as targeting Ataturk because he was the one that violated the will of the conqueror by turning Hagia Sophia into a museum in 1934.

Opposition parties have also criticised Hagia Sophia’s first imam, Mehmet Boynukalın, who was appointed as soon as its status changed. In posts on social media, Boynukalın had asked for the abolition of the secular state and the enforcement of Islamic law in Turkey. “Turkey must return to the rules of Islam,” he said. His posts also caused reactions inside the ruling party. As a result, he was asked to leave the post in April.

Political analysts and opposition parties say that Hagia Sophia’s conversion has sparked a coordinated attack on the secular state and the memory of Atatürk. “Since Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque, there has been a sharp rise in attacks against the founder of Turkey, Kemal Atatürk, and insults against him. This must stop. Atatürk’s legacy was not the sword but an olive branch to global peace,” political analyst Sedat Ergin told Hürriyet newspaper. Historian Zafer Toprak said of Hagia Sophia that “Atatürk’s decision was also based on respect for the cultures that existed before the Ottoman Empire. There was also a political dimension that included the Eastern Roman Empire. With his decision, Atatürk had made Hagia Sophia a part of the world’s cultural legacy.”

Hakkı Uyar, a Turkish history professor, says that “all this rhetoric inside Hagia Sophia shows that their confrontation with the founding members of the Turkish Republic and Atatürk is not over. What Atatürk did was to leave religious conflict aside and launch a fight about culture. Hagia Sophia was not the symbol of clashing but of compromise with the West. Regrettably, there is no other country in the world that is so much in conflict with the founder of that same country.”

In the early days after the imam’s remarks at Hagia Sophia, the government’s reaction was mild. However, Erdoğan’s nationalist ally Devlet Bahçeli reacted on June 1. “Kemal Atatürk is ours and our nation’s red line. Were it not for Atatürk, instead of hearing the sound of the imam when you were born, perhaps you would be christened.” Similarly, the spokesman of the ruling AKP party, Ömer Çelik, tweeted that “Ataturk saved our country, our people, our mosques.” Analysts say that the government’s reaction came only after the outcry from many Turkish citizens, not just the pro-Atatürk folk.

Many commentators say that Hagia Sophia is part of Erdoğan’s policy as he sees mosques as part of his strategy. Cumhuriyet commentator Örsan Öymen speaks of a “mosque fetish.” He says that on April 28, Erdoğan inaugurated a mosque in Taksim Square, a symbol of the Kemalist state. That came after he had turned Hagia Sophia into a mosque and after building Turkey’s biggest Islamic temple, the Çamlıca mosque. “The president said that these mosques were his dream. But these have nothing to do with the dreams of ordinary people. These are the dreams of Erdoğan, of the AKP and of certain Islamic sects that support them. People dream of social and economic justice, of decent wages and of an independent justice system. There are more than 85,000 mosques in Turkey and most of them are empty over six days a week,” he said.

Last Friday, Erdoğan inaugurated yet another mosque in Zonguldak. “I believe that every mosque that we build is a spiritual guard that protects the future of our people and our country,” he said before explaining his decision to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque. “We held on to this land and we made it our land with our blood, our flag and the sound of prayer heard from the mosques. This is why it was important to reopen Hagia Sophia as a mosque for worship, because it is a legacy of conquest,” he said.

(A version of this article was originally published by the Kathimerini newspaper and is reproduced by permission.)

Exhibit Showcases History of Extraordinary Byzantine Monument, Church of Hagia Sophia in Trabzon, Turkey

An exhibition about the church of Hagia Sophia (Saint Sophia) in Trebizond is open at the Koç University’s ANAMED Gallery in İstiklal Caddesi in central Istanbul until September.
The church has had many roles over the 750 years in which it has stood.
From being an imperial Byzantine monument, stables, a hospital during World War I, a mosque and, after restoration work done in the 1960s, a museum.
The less famous church of Hagia Sophia in Trebizond, now called Trabzon by the Turks was reverted from its status in Turkish law as a museum to that of a mosque in 2012 following the religious authorities (Diyanet) filing a lawsuit against the Ministry of Culture, saying that the ministry had been “illegally occupying” the church for decades.
After the Diyanet won the case and on July 5 2013, it opened as a mosque where many of the church’s paintings and beautiful ancient floor were concealed as it was announced that “during the prayer the mural paintings will be covered by curtains.”
Following this, a local union of architects from Trabzon filed yet another lawsuit against the Ministry of Religious Affairs’ conversion plan to run the mosque and a local judge ruled that the transformation of the former church to be illegal, and said that it was to be maintained as a museum.
Hagia Sophia in Trabzon is considered to be the greatest surviving imperial Byzantine monument of the 13th century in Turkey and is an amazing sight filled with history and culture as it incorporates elements from the Byzantium Empire with the Turkish and Caucasian societies in Anatolia at that time.

Hagia Sophia: The secrets that are hidden in the church’s underground world

Another impressive world, perhaps analogous to the great architectural edifice of the majestic Hagia Sophia, is believed to be hidden in the basements of the famous temple, that was founded by Constantine the Great in 330 AD.

Even though the research and excavation below the surface of the church is not possible at the moment, due to the fact that it now operates as a full-time mosque, several photos have resurfaced recently proving that there is evidence for the existence of an extensive underground area under the basement of Hagia Sophia.

Of course, crypts and catacombs are known to have existed during the early Christian period, but a larger space is believed to be located under the church, where many relics and other objects were hidden in the past, that testify to the church’s tremendous history.

According to archeologists, the custom of Christians to bury the dead in secret ossuaries and crypts under their churches was very common, especially during the Byzantine years where Constantinople was named the capital of the Roman/Byzantine Empire and Hagia Sophia was built.

Besides, two of the most important Christian churches in the world, the church of St. Peter in Rome and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, are known to have some very impressive crypts and catacombs, that were used as cemeteries, and so it is not surprising that a similar “underworld system” might exist under Hagia Sophia.

Photo of the catacombs located under the church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.

One of the stories that prevails among historians is that Hagia Sophia was built over a pagan temple, and there is a whole undiscovered, different building hidden under it. Moreover, based on ancient scripts that were found in the church, people believed at the time that Satan was imprisoned under Hagia Sophia and that is why nobody ever really explored the underground space during older times, while according to another legend, some priests hid valuable Byzantine relics in the crypts under the church, just before the fall of the city.

However, to this day little is known about what exactly is under the church, despite extensive investigations that began around 1935, as they were all terminated abruptly.

In 1937, a team of European archeologists and geologists began researching below Hagia Sophia, but their investigations were suddenly halted due to the outbreak of World War II. Again in 1945, it another group of archeologists decided to pump water under the church to facilitate the excavation, but failed to do so, which resulted in future excavations being cancelled and the temple being closed to the public for several years.

In 2005, excavations in the wells of the area started again, in order to examine the way in which the network of tunnels in the city operated and connected with Hagia Sophia. The search identified nine wells in the surrounding area of ​​the church, five of which still had water, and two were fully explored, while a few tunnels were found that functioned as a ventilation and dehumidification system. Later, in 2009, a grand excavation that ended up becoming a popular historic documentary by filmmaker Goksel Gulensoy, discovered two tanks that connected the church to the underground Cistern and the Topkapi palace, which is built on a hill overlooking the Bosporus strait.

At the bottom of one of these two tanks, and after weeks of research, divers found various objects, such as vials dating from 1917, glass from the church chandeliers, jewellery, pieces of wood, a bucket and even a human skeleton. Even though it is unknown how objects from the church ended up within the water system of the city, it is alleged that they were either thrown in the tanks when British soldiers tried to get Hagia Sophia’s “holy water” after invading the city in 1917.

Photos of Hagia Sophia’s underground excavations.

Hagia Sophia, one of the biggest landmarks of Christianity and Orthodoxy, which for more than a millennium dominated the capital of the Greco-Roman Empire, was built by 10,000 craftsmen, who worked tirelessly for six years to complete this colossal project, while 320,000 pounds (approximately equal to 120,000,000 Euros in today’s world) were spent for its construction.

Over the years, both Turkish and European scholars have tried to explain this architectural marvel of the world and have stated that for the construction and the foundations of Hagia Sophia, techniques unprecedented and mysterious for the time were applied, that are even difficult to examine and repeat today, which showcases the incredible value of the building.

Precisely, it comes as no surprise that about 1600 years after the construction of the temple, the great earthquake that hit Turkey on August 17, 1999, did not affect the foundations of Hagia Sophia at all, and although the church was preserved safely over the centuries, many damages in its interior occurred when the Turkish turned the church into a mosque and scratched out all the hagiographies from the walls.

Even though there are constant requests from archeologists around the world to research the mysterious spaces hidden under Hagia Sophia and find valuable Christian relics, the Turkish government has blocked such projects for the time being, and continues to operate the temple as an Islamic place of pray.

The interior of Hagia Sophia today, that reminds nothing of the once glorious Christian temple.

Hagia Sophia’s History

Hagia Sophia has experienced many construction processes from past to present. The first construction was started by Emperor Constantius in the Byzantine period. After this was finished, Hagia Sophia was opened for worshiping. The building was built on the Temple of Artemis with the name Hagia Sophia it was designed with a wooden roof and had traditional Latin architecture. When people began to rebel, Hagia Sophia was used for worship until it was looted.

Hagia Sophia was destroyed by rebellion then rebuilt by Theodosius II at its present location. The opening was on 10 October 415. This second Hagia Sophia was built by Architect Rofinos, but the building was destroyed during the Nika riot. After this building was destroyed in 532, Justinian I decided to build a much bigger and flashier building.

Physician Isidorus and mathematician Anthemus were architects. Legend has it that Justinian did not like any draft presented to him. But Isidorus drew a draft from a vision he saw in a dream and the Emperor admired this drawing, so he ordered the builders to work from this image.

The designed structure was huge, and because of that papering materials took time. They benefited from a temple on the grounds and sculpted products in those buildings. Egyptian Sun Temple and Ephesus Artemis Temple materials were used in this building. However, how it was all moved is still a matter of curiosity. Hagia Sophia was completed in 5 years and the first mosaics of it were made between the years 565-578. The magnificent temple also hosted the Byzantine coronation ceremonies at that time. An interesting fact is that, the dome of the temple was ruined in an earthquake in 10th. Century. The master architect of Ani in Kars, then called to repair the dome.

A detail from the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) interior.

During the Crusades, İstanbul and sacred relics were seized. After the invasion Hagia Sophia was converted into a cathedral connected to the Roman Catholic Church. When the Byzantines again seized Hagia Sophia in 1261, it was ruined. Although they tried to improve it over the years, the building never regained its former glory. After the Ottomans conquered Istanbul in 1453, Hagia Sophia Church was transformed into a mosque. Hagia Sophia was so important for Mehmet the Conqueror (Fatih Sultan Mehmet), and because of that, Mehmet did not change the name.

Hagia Sophia was supported by Selim II period, between 1566-1574. Sinan the Architect added arches and tombs to the building, together with some additional structures. One of the most prominent restorations in the Ottoman period was made by Fossati during the Sultan Abdulmecid period. Fossati revised the interior of the building and completely renovated the mosaics. Over time, though, and especially during the Ottoman decline, the building did not have such support. When there were wars, refugees took shelter in Hagia Sophia, and soldiers used it as a military base for a while.

Hagia Sophia interior at Istanbul Turkey – architecture background

Hagia Sophia was closed to public from 1930-1935 as restoration was done. Some work has been done on the buildings under the order of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Then, according to decision of the Council of Ministers, Hagia Sophia was converted to a museum. This building has witnessed many important periods of history. When you visit here today, you may feel like you are walking in the distant, distant past. Hagia Sophia gives a mystical atmosphere in Sultan Ahmet, in part because the building itself contains great mysteries. There is a coffin on the top of the middle gate. It was made of yellow brass and it is known that the coffin belonged to Queen Sophia. It is also believed that this coffin should never be touched because if someone does touch it, a great rumble and shake will begin. The angels on the four sides of the dome represent Raphael, Azrael, Michael, and Gabriel.

Hagia Sophia domes and minarets in the old town of Istanbul, Turkey, on sunset.

In the museum, there are also tombs, which hold the belongings of dead people. It is kind of a belief from the Ottoman period that tombs generally were made of velvet and the best clothes of dead people were hidden in there. One of the most important works in the museum is the Baptistery Pool. It resembles both the Eastern Roman and Christian Era artistic traits. You will see a column if you look inside the door when you count the doors from the right side in the direction of qibla in Hagia Sophia. The column is called “Wishing Stone” because it is wet in the summer and winter. It is believed that people with illnesses can find healing thanks to this column. You will see people putting their thumbs inside the hole and wishing.

Opening Ceremony of Hagia Sophia (G. Fossati)

You should definitely visit Hagia Sophia to discover the many mysteries that its history holds.

Trabzon Hagia Sophia Mosque History and Architecture

The building, which is one of the most beautiful examples of the Late Byzantine Churches, has a closed-arm crucifix plan and has a high-hooped dome. It has three porticoes with porticoes to the north, west and south. The building was covered with different vaults on the main dome and the roof was covered with tiles by giving different elevations. In stone plastics, where a superior workmanship is seen, the effects of Islamic art of Seljuk Period as well as Christian art can be seen. Medallions with geometric interlocking decorations seen on the portico façades on the north and west, and muqarnas niches on the western façade have the characteristics of Seljuk stone engraving.

The most magnificent facade of the building is the south. The creation of Adam and Eve is described here in relief as a frieze. On the keystone of the arch on the south front, there is a single-headed eagle motif, which is the symbol of the Comninos Dynasty that reigned in Trabzon for 257 years. The main depiction of the dome is Jesus, the Hristos Pantocrator style that reflects his divine aspect. Below it is an inscription belt, and at the bottom is the angelic frieze. Twelve apostles are depicted between the windows. There are different compositions in pendants. Scenes such as the birth of Jesus, baptism, crucifixion, and the Day of Resurrection are described.

Hagia Sophia

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Hagia Sophia, Turkish Ayasofya, Latin Sancta Sophia, also called Church of the Holy Wisdom or Church of the Divine Wisdom, an important Byzantine structure in Istanbul and one of the world’s great monuments. It was built as a Christian church in the 6th century ce (532–537) under the direction of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. In subsequent centuries it became a mosque, a museum, and a mosque again. The building reflects the religious changes that have played out in the region over the centuries, with the minarets and inscriptions of Islam as well as the lavish mosaics of Christianity.

When was the Hagia Sophia built?

Much of the Hagia Sophia’s edifice evident today was completed in the 6th century (primarily from 532–537), during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. The original church to occupy the site (called the Megale Ekklesia) was commissioned by Emperor Constantine I in 325, razed during a riot in 404, later rebuilt, and destroyed once again in 532 before Justinian commissioned the building that exists today. Since then, mosaics were added throughout the Byzantine period, structural modifications were made in both the Byzantine and Ottoman periods, and features important to the Islamic architectural tradition were constructed during Ottoman ownership of the structure.

Believers of which faiths have worshipped in the Hagia Sophia?

The structure originally erected on the site of the Hagia Sophia was a Christian cathedral called the Megale Ekklesia, which was commissioned by the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine I. Prior to that, the site had been home to a pagan temple. It went through another religious conversion after the conquest of Constantinople by Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II in 1453, when it was designated a mosque. It would remain so for many centuries, until being secularized in 1934 by the Turkish Republic’s first president. It was converted into a museum a year later, a decision which remains controversial.

Why is the Hagia Sophia important?

The Hagia Sophia is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site in Istanbul. For almost a millennium after its construction, it was the largest cathedral in all of Christendom. It served as a center of religious, political, and artistic life for the Byzantine world and has provided us with many useful scholarly insights into the period. It was also an important site of Muslim worship after Sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople in 1453 and designated the structure a mosque. It would remain a mosque until being converted into a museum in the 1930s.

How was the Hagia Sophia altered during the Ottoman Period?

Sultan Mehmed II designated the previously Christian church a mosque shortly after he conquered the city in 1453. Bringing the structure in line with the Islamic tradition called for a series of other modifications, not all of which were undertaken during the reign of Mehmed II. During Mehmed’s rule, a wooden minaret (no longer standing), a mihrab (niche positioned in the direction of Mecca), a minbar (pulpit), a madrasah (school), and a grand chandelier were added. Later modifications included the construction of more minarets, the whitewashing of Christian mosaics, and the addition of structural supports.

How did the Hagia Sophia get its name?

Hagia Sophia is not, in fact, the only name that the structure has gone by. Even now it’s known by several different monikers: Ayasofya in Turkish, Sancta Sophia in Latin, and Holy Wisdom or Divine Wisdom in English (alternate English translations of the Greek words Hagia Sophia). The name Hagia Sophia didn’t come about until around 430 CE. The first of the three Christian structures to be built on the site had another name altogether: Megale Ekklesia, or “Great Church.”

The Hagia Sophia was built in the remarkably short time of about six years, being completed in 537 ce . Unusual for the period in which it was built, the names of the building’s architects— Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus—are well known, as is their familiarity with mechanics and mathematics. The Hagia Sophia combines a longitudinal basilica and a centralized building in a wholly original manner, with a huge 32-metre (105-foot) main dome supported on pendentives and two semidomes, one on either side of the longitudinal axis. In plan the building is almost square. There are three aisles separated by columns with galleries above and great marble piers rising up to support the dome. The walls above the galleries and the base of the dome are pierced by windows, which in the glare of daylight obscure the supports and give the impression that the canopy floats on air.

The original church on the site of the Hagia Sophia is said to have been ordered to be built by Constantine I in 325 on the foundations of a pagan temple. His son, Constantius II, consecrated it in 360. It was damaged in 404 by a fire that erupted during a riot following the second banishment of St. John Chrysostom, then patriarch of Constantinople. It was rebuilt and enlarged by the Roman emperor Constans I. The restored building was rededicated in 415 by Theodosius II. The church was burned again in the Nika insurrection of January 532, a circumstance that gave Justinian I an opportunity to envision a splendid replacement.

The structure now standing is essentially the 6th-century edifice, although an earthquake caused a partial collapse of the dome in 558 (restored 562) and there were two further partial collapses, after which it was rebuilt to a smaller scale and the whole church reinforced from the outside. It was restored again in the mid-14th century. For more than a millennium it was the Cathedral of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. It was looted in 1204 by the Venetians and the Crusaders on the Fourth Crusade.

After the Turkish conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Mehmed II had it repurposed as a mosque, with the addition of a wooden minaret (on the exterior, a tower used for the summons to prayer), a great chandelier, a mihrab (niche indicating the direction of Mecca), and a minbar (pulpit). Either he or his son Bayezid II erected the red minaret that stands on the southeast corner of the structure. The original wooden minaret did not survive. Bayezid II erected the narrow white minaret on the northeast side of the mosque. The two identical minarets on the western side were likely commissioned by Selim II or Murad III and built by renowned Ottoman architect Sinan in the 1500s.

In 1934 Turkish Pres. Kemal Atatürk secularized the building, and in 1935 it was made into a museum. Art historians consider the building’s beautiful mosaics to be the main source of knowledge about the state of mosaic art in the time shortly after the end of the Iconoclastic Controversy in the 8th and 9th centuries. In 1985 the Hagia Sophia was designated a component of a UNESCO World Heritage site called the Historic Areas of Istanbul, which includes that city’s other major historic buildings and locations. Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made the controversial decision in 2020 to convert the building back into a mosque. Islamic prayers were held shortly after the announcement with curtains partially concealing the building’s Christian imagery. As Turkey’s most popular tourist destination, the Hagia Sophia remained open to visitors.

Turkey’s other Hagia Sophia, in Trabzon

Once a church – and a hospital and a museum – it is now a mosque. It is also one of Turkey’s best-preserved late-Byzantine buildings, is free to enter and has much to offer visitors of all faiths or none

History haven … Hagia Sophia in Trabzon, Turkey. Photograph: Caroline Eden

History haven … Hagia Sophia in Trabzon, Turkey. Photograph: Caroline Eden

First published on Wed 25 Oct 2017 10.30 BST

I t may be far smaller and much less famous than its namesake in Istanbul, but what Trabzon’s Hagia Sophia lacks in architectural splendour it makes up for in tranquillity and beauty. Right by the sea, it is a place of palm trees, birdsong and cool breezes, a welcome respite from Trabzon’s bazaar, busy port and humming Black Sea highway.

Its history reflects Turkey’s past. Built as a church in the 13th century, then converted to a mosque during the Ottoman empire, it had a spell as a cholera hospital before opening as a museum in 1964, and then was converted back to a mosque in 2013.

Interior of Hagia Sophia. Photograph: Feng Wei Photography/Getty Images

Its colourful frescoes of evangelists and soaring angels were whitewashed during Ottoman rule, and restored by British art historian David Talbot Rice in the late 1950s. Some were worried what might happen to them this time around, but while some floor mosaics are covered, and a false ceiling hides the figurative Christian dome art in the main prayer room, only a fraction of the frescoes are out of sight today.

Ceiling fresco. Photograph: Feng Wei Photography/Getty Images

There are still dozens of paintings to admire, and they make Trabzon’s Hagia Sophia well worth the trip. Not only is considered by many historians to be Turkey’s best-preserved late-Byzantine building, it is free to enter and there are none of the queues and crowds that throng its grand sister 650 miles away in Istanbul.
Zübeyde Hanım Street, just off Trabzon’s seafront

Hagia Sophia of Trabzon. The Byzantine Black Sea Jewel.

In 1263 completed construction of the most beautiful Byzantine church that was built in the current Trabzon. Near the city center and in an elevated area from which you can admire the Black Sea coast, the cross-shaped building is accompanied by a bell tower surrounded by gardens. Inside there are valuable frescoes and mosaics were restored in 1964. The 5 July 2013 will be remembered with sadness for lovers of art and history because, after being a museum for 49 years ago, the authorities decided to convert the building into a mosque again. To give such use, the painted ceiling and walls were covered with curtains, floor mosaics have been under the carpet and you can not admire the dome. From the belfry of Italian inspiration, now called the faithful to prayer in a neighborhood where residents say half of the mosques are empty.

Hagia Sophia was built between 1238 and 1263 during the reign of Manuel I. Back then Trebizond was an independent empire of Byzantium and the church was designed to be the cathedral of the capital. It is a beautiful example of late Byzantine architecture, with a dome supported by four arches and external cross with two porches on the north and south sides. His frescoes depicting scenes from the New Testament and under the dome is a valuable opus sectile multicolor. In the south porch are represented images of Genesis. In 1427 The bell tower was built next to the church, It is also decorated with frescoes.

When Mehmet the Conqueror took the city in 1461 ordered the building was converted into a mosque and the frescoes were covered with lime. However, in subsequent 400 years ago, The building suffered a progressive deterioration and 1868 had to be restored because of their poor state of repair. During World War II, Trabzon was occupied by the Russians, who used the building as a makeshift hospital. Between 1958 and 1964 the church was restored. The building underwent consolidation works and frescoes were newly discovered with the help of experts from the University of Edinburgh and the Directorate General of Foundations. In 1964 was reopened to the public as a museum and remained so until 2013.

In December 2012, court ruled in favor of Vakiflar, Directorate General of Awqaf in charge of the conservation of historic mosques. The statement said that the building is part of the legacy of Mehmet II and stated that the Ministry of Culture had illegally occupied the place to use as a museum. Party officials of the current government ordered the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque after the relevant reforms and was reopened to the Muslim religion coinciding with the first Friday of Ramadan 2013.

The decision has caused much controversy in academic circles worldwide and Turkey itself. The value of the paintings now covered and the disappearance of the protection enjoyed by the place thanks to their status as museum, of great concern. Now admission is free, No guards, no one to take care to protect the integrity of this valuable cultural heritage. Even the merchants of the area and the tourism authorities have initiated action to reverse the decision which has deprived the city of one of its main attractions.

We hope you will finally find a formula that return to enjoy this beautiful monument. Surely, a place that offends Muslims for his paintings, decorating their floors, even the very building cross, is not the right to practice prayer and could be left to be used for other purposes.

Controversy aside, Hagia Sophia in Trabzon is a recommended visit so magnificent building and its surroundings.

Watch the video: Turkey - Turcja - Trabzon, Hagia Sophia - Sumela Monastyr


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