The Hagia Sophia is one of Istanbul’s most remarkable monuments. The landmark has undergone centuries of renovations and lived to narrate tales of war, fall of empires, disasters and more. Due to its rich history and architecture, the Hagia Sophia has been declared a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO. It was initially built as a cathedral, then converted into a mosque, after which it was declared as a museum in 1935 under the Republic of Turkey. Though today it has been re-designated as a mosque, here’s what you need to know about the Hagia Sophia Museum, that was.
The Hagia Sophia Museum is one of the most socially constructive structures in Turkey. In its 14 centuries of history, it has witnessed the rise and fall of many empires. The structure itself has changed considerably in the process. Here’s a look at its history and architecture.
The Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum in 1935 by the first Turkish President and founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The monument has been of keen interest to the world, despite its deteriorating condition. Art historians consider Hagia Sophia’s beautiful mosaics as the main source to understand its historical information.
Since it had passed hands between both Christian and Muslim empires, Atatürk sought to maintain the Hagia Sophia as a secular monument where those of all faiths are welcome. The Hagia Sophia was declared a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site called the Historic Areas of Istanbul in 1985, which includes the other major historical buildings and locations of that city.
Until 1991, due to its secular status, all religious prayers and observations were prohibited within the premises of the Hagia Sophia Museum. In 2014, the Hagia Sophia attracted about 3.3 million visitors, making it the second-most visited structure in Turkey.
After the Hagia Sophia was re-designated as a museum, Atatürk’s first plan of action was to remove the carpets and the mortar layer underneath. Marble floor decorations like omphalos were added, while the white plaster covering several of the earlier mosaics were removed.
Due to the constant deterioration of its roof, floor and walls, the Hagia Sophia was listed on World Monuments Watch in 1996 and again in 1998 by the World Monuments Fund (WMF).
From 1997 to 2002, the WMF secured a series of grants to rebuild the dome. The structural stabilization and reconstruction of the cracked roof, which was undertaken with the involvement of the Turkish Ministry of Culture, was the first stage of work. During the second stage, the preservation of the interior of the dome allowed young Turkish conservators to be employed and trained in the care of mosaics. The WMF project was completed in 2006.
The Hagia Sophia Museum retained its designation for 85 years. During its time, it became one of the most visited attractions in Europe.
During the last two decades, various political conflicts have kept Hagia Sophia at the forefront of the news. Various governments and organizations had reached out to convert it to a either a Christian or Muslim place of worship.
In 2016, the first official Islamic prayer was held at the Hagia Sophia Museum. In 2018, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan began talks about converting the museum to a mosque; today, it has officially been converted into the Hagia Sophia mosque. On July 24, 2020, the first prayer was held.