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Video Shows Fragments Falling From Dome of Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia fragments falling
A still from a recently released video shows visitors rushing to take cover as fragments fall from the dome of the Hagia Sophia. Credit: Daily Motion/BirGün

A video from 2022 that recently came to light shows fragments falling on visitors from the dome of the Hagia Sophia, the former epicenter of Christian worship in Constantinople, today’s Istanbul.

The footage released by the Turkish newspaper, BirGün, raises serious questions over the safety of the former Orthodox Christian cathedral, which has now been converted to a mosque.

BirGün notably quoted officials as saying that “pieces are falling from the roof, due to the humidity created by the crowd, but no precautions are being taken.”

The president of the Turkish Art History Association, Serif Yasar, argued for restoration of the monument as soon as possible, suggesting that “if Hagia Sophia is not restored, it will collapse with the first earthquake.”

The monument was restored as a mosque three years ago after serving as a museum from 1935 to 2020. It has since received twenty-one million visitors, according to Turkey’s tourism and culture minister.

Yasar added that when the church was a museum, the scientific council overseeing it urged that groups of no more than twenty-five people be allowed to enter the building at any one time.

This enormous lift in visitation has likely brought to the forefront the need for repairs, and it was indeed reported in September that the Turkish government had decided to start long-term maintenance of the Hagia Sophia.

Turkey to implement visitor management policy at Hagia Sophia

In early October, Turkish historian Ilber Ortayli expressed fears that the large number of visitors to Hagia Sophia could lead to a catastrophic structural failure if not addressed immediately.

Writing in the Hürriyet Daily News, 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 twenty to thirty 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.

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.

The Turkish Association of Art Historians then stated, in April 2022, that the historic Imperial Gate of the Hagia Sophia had been badly damaged. The group posted a picture clearly depicting the damage to the oak wood of the fifteen-century-old gate.

Turkey unveiled plans in late October for a visitor management policy at the Hagia Sophia, including charging foreign tourists with an entrance fee to be implemented starting January 15th.

Minister of Culture and Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy said that extensive restoration work is underway in various sections of the Hagia Sophia, now a mosque, with plans to progress to other parts upon their completion.

He emphasized that, based on UNESCO’s recommendations, a visitor management plan would be enforced to enhance the quality and safety of visitors while preserving the historical significance of the site.

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