Home Do You Know? Why this UNESCO world heritage site has become centre of controversy?

Why this UNESCO world heritage site has become centre of controversy?

It’s the second most visited museum in Turkey, attracting almost 3.3 million visitors annually and is a witness to the changing political and religious equations in Turkey over the years. 1500 old structure built in 16th century included in UNESCO World Heritage List as part of Istanbul’s marvellous heritage treasure. Now its hogging the limelight for all wrong reasons (or avoidable reasons). Do you know the controversy surrounding this monument?

Built in AD 537, during the reign of Justinian, Hagia Sophia was the world’s largest building and an engineering marvel of its time. It was Cathedral till 1453 and once the city fell to Ottoman conquest the building was converted into an Ottoman mosque. In 1935, some secular minds converted it into a museum and has remained so since then. Now, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wants to convert it back to a mosque calling the decision to convert  the building into a museum was a big mistake.

The matter is in court which will decide whether the heritage site can be converted into a mosque or not and the matter will be decided in ten days. It’s a well-known fact that Erdogan doesn’t need the courts to decide on the fate of the Hagia Sophia and a favourable judgment will add legitimacy to his proposal. There has also been little opposition to these plans within Turkey, they say, because religious minorities do not wish to be involved in what is seen as a polarising subject.

The Russian Orthodox Church says converting Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia monument from a museum to a mosque would be “unacceptable” while Turkey has defended the decision, citing its sovereignty over the matter. Earlier in May this year, Greece objected to the reading of passages from the Quran inside the Hagia Sophia on the 567th anniversary of the Ottoman invasion of the former Byzantine capital. These protests are unlikely to have any impact on Erdogan who is now determined carry out his decision.

Hagia Sophia is one of the most beautiful examples of Byzantine architecture. It’s a masonry construction has brick and mortar joints that are 1.5 times the width of the bricks. Its interior is decorated with mosaics and marble pillars and coverings of great artistic value. Its dome has spurred particular interest for many art historians, architects and engineers because of the innovative way the original architects envisioned it. The dome is carried on four spherical triangular pendentives, one of the first large-scale uses of them. The pendentives are the corners of the square base of the dome, which curve upwards into the dome to support it, restraining the lateral forces of the dome and allowing its weight to flow downwards.

Following the building’s conversion into a mosque in 1453, many of its mosaics were covered with plaster, due to Islam’s ban on representational imagery.

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