Sunday, March 23, 2014

Hagia Sophia - Trabzon, Turkey

Hagia Sophia in Trabzon, Turkey was built between 1238 and 1263 during the reign of Manual Comnenos I. After Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror took Trabzon in 1461, the church was converted to a mosque and its frescoes were white-washed. The mosque was in a state of ruin for a time, then restored in 1864. During WWI it was occupied by the Russian military and used as a hospital and depot, then returned to use as a mosque. From 1958 to 1964 the frescoes were uncovered with the help of experts from Edinburgh University and in 1964 Hagia Sophia was opened as a museum. Only about one-sixth of the original decorations survive. It is an example of late Byzantine architecture with a high central dome supported by four column arches. The church is a cross in a square plan, but with north and south porches, the outside takes the shape of a cross. West of the church is a bell tower built in 1427. 
Hagia Sophia in Trabzon, Turkey

Bell tower
Inside the dome.
Detail around dome windows.
Dome support pillars.
Support pillars.
Since we visited in 2011, a 2012 court case directed re-conversion to a mosque. Apparently Islamists claim that Sultan Mehmet, who captured Constantinople and turned it into Istanbul in 1453 and conquered Trabzon in 1461 and turned Hagia Sophia to a mosque, would have his memory degraded if it does not remain open to Muslims for worship.  Secularists claim it did not become a mosque until a century later than that. With the re-conversion, crimson carpet went on the floors and tenting stretched under the central dome concealed the frescoes. Academics are concerned that other preciously few Byzantine churches in Turkey will meet the same fate. One academic in London noted, "The paintings at the Hagia Sophia are important as the best surviving imperially sponsored paintings in Turkey. They are vitally important in understanding the nature and development of the empire of Trebizond, the offshoot of the Byzantine Empire that was established in the city in 1204 and outlasted Constantinople, only to fall in 1461." Then, apparently in November 2013, another court reversed the earlier court decision and ordered Hagia Sophia to be retained as a museum.
Amazing to think how old these are.

More surprisingly, there have been calls to transform the more famous Hagia Sophia in Istanbul back into a mosque. When we visited Istanbul we heard concerns about the conservative turn the government was taking and where it would lead. This is evidence of that. 


  1. It's amazing to me that there is anything left of the frescoes after almost 800 years. It would be sad if they weren't available for public viewing.

  2. Eight hundred years old? Incredible! At least they just tented over the frescoes and didn't destroy them.