Hagia Sophia Church, Trabzon

Trabzon‘s Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia, Ayasofya), 3.3 km (2 miles) west of Atatürk Alanı (map), is an important surviving example of late Byzantine architecture, and one of Trabzon’s principal sights.

Built between 1250 and 1260, the church dates from the time of Emperor Manuel I (1231-1263) of the Empire of Trebizond (1204-1461).

When Trabzon was captured by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in 1461, the building was converted to a mosque, its frescoes whitewashed in accordance with Islamic law that prohibits the use of “idols,” including images.

Between 1958 and 1964 its brightly-painted frescoes were uncovered, restored and stabilized by teams from Edinburgh University and the Turkish Directorate of Foundations. In 1964 Hagia Sophia was opened as a museum, and became one of the must-see sights in Trabzon.

In July 2013 the main hall of the church was rededicated as a mosque. The central dome, with its frescoes, was covered by a tent-like veil, its floor of inlaid stone was covered in carpeting, and other facilities for Muslim worship were provided.

The narthex, with more frescoes, remains outside the worship area, as a museum, as do the exterior and the gardens surrounding the building.

Relief on façade of Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) Church, Trabzon, Turkey
Relief on the south façade of Hagia Sophia…

The building has a cross-in-square plan with prominent entrance façades on the north, west and south sides. The west entrance, originally the main entrance to the church via the narthex, has been locked. The north entrance is now used for access to the mosque because it is opposite the mihrab(prayer niche) which orients worshippers south toward Mecca.

Although non-Muslims are allowed to visit the mosque, there is little to see as the dome is obscured and the pictorial colored-stone floor is covered in carpeting. Concentrate instead on the narthex, the decoration of the three portals, the tall bell tower (not open to visitors), and the fine viewsof the Black Sea from the high ground on which the building is set.

—by Tom Brosnahan


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