The Turkish government has decided to start long-term maintenance and repairs of the former Orthodox Christian cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, which was converted into a mosque, after scientists discovered significant damage both inside and outside the 6th century Byzantine monument.
Some experts are discussing a lengthy project that might take decades to complete.
However, there is concern among some circles in Turkey who suspect that there may be political expediency behind this decision, so that Hagia Sophia is closed for a long period of time and does not function as a mosque.
Political analysts recall that at the same time Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had decided to convert Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque in 2020, the same decision was made for the Chora Monastery (Kariye) but was not implemented as it was suddenly closed for restoration works.
For his part, however, Turkey’s Minister of Tourism Mehmet Nuri Ersoy has assured that Hagia Sophia will remain open and will also function as a mosque.
Structural studies are being carried out to start seismic protection and maintenance works on the domes. However, guides and archaeologists stress that during the restoration works, the prayer area and the visitors areas will have to be further restricted, which may mean that for some time there will be a need to keep the gates of the site closed to visitors.
What has been highlighted many times by the Turkish media is that the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque and the free access to the site has put a strain on this heritage monument and many reports have already been published about the damage to the walls and gates caused by visitors.
Scientists also point out that Hagia Sophia has suffered a lot of damage over the centuries, including the dome and other parts, while guides have pointed to rainwater leaks.