Concern has risen a notch in Istanbul where is it known how much Islam cares about figurative art: what will become of the frescoes in the Hagia Sophia, which must be converted into a mosque, from July 24 next? The Turkish authority in charge of religious affairs—in the hands of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan—responded on July 14, 2020.
Diyanet, the Turkish authority responsible for the management of religious affairs, in a press release published on July 14—a date coinciding with that of the capture of Jerusalem by the Crusaders in 1099—gave the first piece of information of the response regarding the future of the thousand-year-old frescoes, symbols of the past splendors of the Eastern Roman Empire.
The Byzantine figures adorning the walls of the great basilica, “do not constitute an obstacle to holding prayers,” explains Diyanet, who took care to specify that, during times of prayer, the “Christian icons would be obscured by curtains and other appropriate means.”
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, heir apparent to the Ottoman sultans, does he wish to imitate the gesture of his distant predecessor Mehmet II? Surprisingly, the victor of Constantinople refused, in 1453, to destroy some 16,000 square meters of frescoes and mosaics, deciding to have them covered with plaster.
In 1934, during the transformation of the basilica into a museum, some of these frescoes were stripped of the plaster which covered them, allowing people to get an idea of the sumptuous decoration of the sanctuary in the 6th century.
Six centuries after Mehmet II, technical skills allowing, plaster could give way to lighting solutions to darken the images during the times of the five public prayers required by Islam.
Driven by reasons of domestic policy, the decision of the Turkish Head of State to transform the Hagia Sophia into a mosque for the second time in fifteen centuries has aroused much criticism in Russia and Greece, while in Rome, Pope Francis said he was “very saddened.”