Hagia Sophia, the epicenter of Christian worship at Constantinople (now Istanbul), is in danger of collapse due to the vast number of visitors a Turkish expert warned.
The Hagia Sophia, which has served as an Orthodox cathedral, an Ottoman mosque, and a museum, is now again functioning as a mosque and receiving a large number of visitors daily, a situation that distinguished Turkish historian Ilber Ortayli fears could lead to a catastrophic structural failure if not addressed immediately.
Writing recently in the Hürriyet daily, Ortayli said that the monument, which attracts three million pilgrims annually apart from tourists, has undergone significant damage since its conversion into a mosque.
He asserted that even a modest number of 20-30 thousand people annually, including scientists, historians, archaeologists, representatives of the Muslim religion, politicians, and public officials, could be considered excessive for the endurance of the monument.
Hagia Sophia needs to close to avoid collapse
The historian warned that the building needs to be closed for restoration to prevent any potential collapse.
Ortayli also criticizes interventions related to the monument’s function as a mosque, stressing that facilities for daily mosque needs, such as toilets and fountains, cannot be installed in the Hagia Sophia.
Damage to Hagia Sophia
In June 2022 a number of tiles of the ancient marble floors in Hagia Sophia were damaged by heavy machines used to clean the site, Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet reported.
The paper said that the transformation of the site from a museum to a place of worship is to blame for the damage.
“This historic building has faced tremendous damage. When Hagia Sophia was a museum, people visited it with great respect. Now it’s like a carnival,” a tourist guide was quoted as saying.
— Dete Gr (@DeteGrPatras) June 28, 2022
This was not the first time that the building faced damage since its transformation into a mosque.
In April 2022, The Turkish Association of Art Historians stated that the historic Imperial Gate in Hagia Sophia had been badly damaged.
The group posted a picture clearly depicting the damage to the oak wood of the 15-century-old gate.
Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis expressed his “sadness and disgust” at the vandalism to a door of Hagia Sophia in a call with UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, shortly after the photo was made public.
Mitsotakis said that the damage to the Imperial Gate demonstrated disrespect for the monument’s history, integrity, and universal character.
Hagia Sophia remains the symbolic center of the Greek Orthodox faith even almost six centuries after its fall to the Ottomans and its conversion to a mosque.
From 537 to 1453, the “Great Church,” as the Byzantines called it, was the eastern heart of Christianity.
The massive temple held a total of twenty-three thousand worshipers, and 525 priests, deacons, and chanters served its liturgies.