Istanbul-Turkey: In a recent television appearance, distinguished Turkish historian Ilber Ortaili called for restricting visitor access to the Hagia Sophia, warning that the iconic structure could collapse if authorities do not take action.
His remarks come on the heels of an opinion piece he authored, expressing concerns about the damage to the monument since its conversion into a mosque. Ortaili emphasized the need for temporary closure and extensive restoration efforts. He also raised alarms over the annual influx of three million pilgrims, in addition to tourists, as potentially detrimental to the site’s preservation.
Ortaili stressed the urgency of repairing, cleaning, and restoring the monument’s infrastructure, such as underground passages, water systems, and ventilation, which are not designed to withstand the heavy foot traffic. He suggested that even an annual attendance of 20,000 to 30,000 individuals, including scholars, historians, archaeologists, religious representatives, politicians, and officials, might exceed the building’s durability limits.
The historian criticized modifications made to operate the monument as a mosque, asserting that certain features like toilets and fountains are inappropriate for Hagia Sophia’s historical and structural integrity.
Turkey’s Tourism and Culture Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy disclosed that Hagia Sophia has welcomed 21 million visitors since its conversion into a mosque three years ago.
The Turkish government has initiated projects to fortify Hagia Sophia’s stability as part of the restoration of key historical landmarks in Istanbul. The restoration plan includes cleaning cement mortar, repairing aging lead surfaces on domes, addressing cracks and fissures beneath the dome, and restoring the lead covering. Additionally, one minaret, known as the Bayezid minaret, will be temporarily dismantled for maintenance.
Ilber Ortaili holds numerous positions and accolades, including honorary membership in the Turkish Historical Society, board membership in the International Committee for Ottoman Studies, and advisory roles to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. He has also served as the director of the Topkapi Museum.