Restoration of Hagia Sophia sets example for world, says official
The restoration works being carried out using the most advanced techniques in Istanbul’s landmark Hagia Sophia have set a clear example for the world to see a work of exceptional precision, keeping the cultural heritage of different beliefs and civilizations intact, the provincial director of culture and tourism has said.
Hagia Sophia was a protocol temple that witnessed coronation ceremonies of the Roman Empire and various significant ceremonies in the Ottoman period, Coşkun Yılmaz said, adding that many political, social, and cultural upheavals, including natural disasters experienced in the process, had also left their traces on the marvel.
Hagia Sophia was burned in the Nika riots, suffered the Latin invasion, and was exposed to major earthquakes, fires and other disasters, he noted.
Stating that the Ottoman Empire attached great importance to Hagia Sophia, Yılmaz said that one of the priorities of Ottoman sultan Mehmet II, known as Mehmed the Conqueror, after the conquest was to protect Hagia Sophia.
Originally built as a Christian Orthodox Church and after serving that purpose for centuries, Hagia Sophia was transformed into a mosque by Ottomans upon their conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
Yılmaz stated that the Hagia Sophia, starting from the era of Ottoman sultan Mehmed the Conqueror, was transformed into an Ottoman complex, with minarets, madrasahs, almshouses, shrines, fountain, primary schools, and a library built inside the mosque.
“In fact, the support, maintenance and repair work that carried Hagia Sophia from the 16th century to the present day and will lead it even to the next centuries was carried out by Mimar Sinan,” he said.
Yılmaz said that architects of the day say that if it wasn’t for the repair work supervised by the Ottoman’s great architect, people would only talk about the ruins of Hagia Sophia today.
“For this reason, one can refer to Mimar Sinan as one of the great architects of Hagia Sophia,” he said.
He compared the restoration works in Hagia Sophia to something like digging a well with a needle and said that it was necessary to evaluate and use three to five different methods to repair a marble of this structure and bring its parts together.
“It may seem strange to you, but even a piece of marble as small as the head of a pin is detected and photographed, and millimetric calculations and drawings are made and replaced,” he said.
“Hagia Sophia has revealed to the world as an exemplary system, model and structure on how to protect the cultural heritage of different beliefs and civilizations. This is a tradition that comes from our historical roots and practices,” he added.
In 1934, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, had Hagia Sophia made into a museum, and in 1985, the marvel was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Last year, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ordered the conversion of the city’s historic building back into a mosque after a court annulled a 1934 presidential decree that converted it into a museum.
Yılmaz stated that Erdoğan closely monitored restoration works in Hagia Sophia when it was a museum and during the process of converting it back to a mosque.