A Turkish court’s decision to cancel the Cabinet’s decision of 1934, which decided to convert “Hagia Sophia” in Istanbul from a mosque to a museum, has sparked massive discussions that have not stopped so far in Europe and the world, and politics and history, architecture and dialogue of religions have been mixed.
In her article, published by the British Middle East Eye, British historian Diana Darke said that the conversion of the Hagia Sophia Museum to a mosque sparked controversy that lacked the historical context of this important building, criticizing the Western stereotype of Hagia Sophia.
The writer considered that the important thing to understand is that the Hagia Sophia, like many religious buildings, has its own political background - as is always the case - that reflects the engineering engineering of politics, and explains what is happening in society. The current events are the result of a long series of twists and turns.
According to the researcher on the Syrian heritage, author of "My Home in Damascus", the first church was built in the year 360 AD, but there is no evidence of a Christian mosaic on the walls of the type found from the fifth and sixth century and onward, and instead the walls were covered with decorations Marble and plaster of gold-plated decorative patterns.
When the Western Roman Empire and Rome itself collapsed in 476 AD, Constantinople became the largest and richest city in Europe, and the effects on it were wide and varied, including its influence on the Latin Roman culture and the Copts in Egypt, the Thracians, Macedonians, and Illyrians (in present-day Albania), and the Parthians (in northern Turkey) Present), the Carrisians and Phrygians (in Central West Anatolia), the Armenians and Lydians (West Anatolia), the Galatians (an Asian people who occupied Central Europe), the Pelagans, the Lycians, the Syrians, the Kelsis, the Christians, the Cappadocians, the Persians, and then the Arab Muslims.
The writer asserts that many Europeans call the Byzantine Empire "Greece", while it was actually a multi-ethnic empire, the Greeks formed a relatively small part of it, and most of the Byzantine emperors were not of Greek origin, according to the British Academy.
Emperor Justinian (died 565 AD) was forced to build the current Hagia Sophia, after being irreparably damaged by angry crowds protesting the high taxes he imposed. According to art historian John Louden, Justinian was "a person of exceptional vision and energy, and he was very religious, but at the same time ruthless, and his military ambitions matched the huge buildings project he implemented."
#HagiaSophia - what the political & architectural backstory tells us… @HurstPublishers https://t.co/fhzEqBBo0u
- Diana Darke (@dianadarke) July 31, 2020
Rebuilding the Hagia Sophia
After angry protests and in an effort to regain control as quickly as possible, in 532 Justinian commissioned two famous architects, descended from western Anatolia - a geographical region located in the southwestern part of Asia and includes most of Turkey now - to complete the construction of the Hagia Sophia with a huge work force For five intense years.
The British historian says that the architects ignored many of the emperor's instructions and architectural proposals, and in return they created their unique architecture, which was universally appreciated as the abundance of Byzantine architecture, and was admired by everyone around the world for achieving the amazing achievement of the central dome system.
There is a completely different picture conveyed by the Latin manuscript of Western Europe that is now in the Vatican Library, where the emperor Justinian is large in size, much larger than Hagia Sophia himself, as he directs a small building that appears somewhat tense as he tries to keep his balance on a ladder.
The Hagia Sophia was not inspired by the building of the "Pantheon Temple" of Emperor Hadrian of Rome, but rather from the ancient Eastern traditions. The St. Simeon Church in Syria, west of Aleppo - which was completed in 490 AD - was the largest and most important religious institution in the world for 50 years, before the construction of the Hagia Sophia.
St. Simeon was also a source of inspiration for the UNESCO World Heritage site, the Church of St. Vitale in the Italian city of Ravenna, which briefly represented the capital of the Western Roman Empire, where all bishops until 425 AD were of Syrian origin, and their saint Apollinaris was from Antioch (present-day southern Turkey) .
The Church of St. Simeon - which is famous throughout Europe as a pilgrimage site, and resembling Santiago de Compostela in its time - could have accommodated 10,000 worshipers, more than nine Notre-Dame de Bari or the Clooney Abbey.
Temple of Heaven
Hagia Sophia has been the largest cathedral in the world for more than a thousand years, and has had a great impact and inspiration on future religious architecture, be it Christian or Islamic.
558 AD, a series of earthquakes caused its collapse just 20 years after its completion, and at that time Emperor Justinian was 76, and the two architects had died.
Parts of this second dome, whose construction was completed in 562, collapsed again in 989 and 1346 AD, but it was restored without change to the materials that made up it. This was a remarkable achievement that Ottoman historians later praised.
In the year 1204 AD, during the Fourth Crusade, the Hagia Sophia witnessed the greatest damage suffered during its long history, as it was looted, similar to Constantinople as a whole, which left a great division between the Latin and Greek Churches and the Roman Catholics against the Greek Orthodox Christians, and the killing, rape, looting and destruction continued. Throughout 3 days.
The Fourth Crusade
The defeat of Byzantium - which at the time witnessed a massive deterioration - fueled the collapse of the political situation in the empire, which made their defeat by the Turks easy. Contrary to expectations, the Fourth Crusade and the Crusader movement ultimately resulted in the victory of Islam.
Pope Innocent III - who unintentionally launched the ill-fated campaign - rebuked the crusaders who destroyed Constantinople, and said: "How will the Church of the Greeks restore the unity of churches and sincerity in spreading the message, regardless of the various kinds of adversity and persecution that it suffered, and it sees the Latinos as a standing example?" On perdition and acts of darkness, so that now - and for good reasons - there is more hatred for Latinos than for dogs? "
"As for those who were supposed to serve the ends of the Christian religion, not their own interests, they took their swords that they were supposed to raise against the pagans, and stained them with Christian blood, and they had no mercy on religion, age or sex. They committed the incest of relatives, fornication, and immorality. In front of the eyes of the public, violating the holy places and destroying crosses and relics. "
But the anger shown by the Pope did not deter him from accepting the looted gems, gold, money and other precious things, which indicated the wealth of the lavish church, and he used a large part of this wealth in turn in huge building projects all over Europe, such as the decoration and decoration of St. Mark's Cathedral in Venice, Some of this money was also directed to finance Gothic cathedrals in Europe, according to the British historian.
Pope John Paul II expressed his remorse - after 800 years - of the events of the Fourth Crusade, and said in his message to the Archbishop of Athens in 2001: "It is unfortunate that the aggressors who set out to secure the freedom of Christians' access to the Holy Land, turned against their brothers In Religion: Catholics regret the fact that they are Latin Christians. "
In 1453 AD, when Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror conquered Constantinople, he unleashed his armies to take the spoils for 3 days, a habit that any victorious army of that period (not only the Ottomans) had done, but then he invited them to stop.
Muhammad al-Fateh allowed most of the churches to continue its activities, but he made the Hagia Sophia a mosque. He built a minaret and the subsequent sultans constructed another 3, which explains the existence of a minaret currently in every corner of Hagia Sophia, but there were no major changes in the interior, which is still largely as it was before the conquest, according to the British historian.
Christianity and Islam add a lot of common symbolism to the significance of the dome in architecture, such as considering it a physical representation of the sky and the hereafter, but Hagia Sophia has always been different from the holy buildings in Rome, such as the Pantheon and St. Peter's Basilica.
Its design was considered rooted in eastern traditions, where the Persian shrines were distinguished by a circular dome based on a square cylinder, and the transition between the circle and the square resulted in a form known as the octagon, and it represents - in Christianity and Islam - the resurrection and the journey between earth and sky, which explains the octagonal form that many take Of the graves in both religions.
In addition to common concepts, Christians and Muslims in the eastern Mediterranean enjoyed a common heritage, which appeared in building materials, used techniques, and tools that were transmitted between the Greco-Roman and Persian worlds and even ancient Etruscans (ancient Italian civilization).
Likewise, they share the workers, builders, and craftsmen who worked according to demand, at the request of the generous employer to pay their wages, regardless of their religion. Byzantine mosaic patterns, for example, were frequently used to decorate Islamic mosques, such as the Dome of the Rock and the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Transition in Aleppo.
In the year 1573, the great Ottoman architect Sinan was tasked with restoring the Hagia Sophia, which started to show signs of collapse again. Supports were added to the outside to ensure earthquake resistance. Generally, 24 pillars have been added over the past centuries to ensure their consistency, making their outward appearance completely different from what they originally seemed to be.
At the end of the article, the author refers to the loss that the Turkish treasury can suffer by converting the Hagia Sophia to a mosque open to all without tickets, similar to the neighboring Blue Mosque and all mosques in Turkey (unlike many cathedrals and churches in Europe), as entry to " Hagia Sophia Museum "requires payment of approximately $ 15 per person.
The author concludes by saying that perhaps we should celebrate the fact that today Muslims and non-Muslims alike can make frequent "free" visits to Hagia Sophia, to observe the architecture in which Christianity blends Islam in this unique building based on cross-fertilization between East and West.