Hagia Sophia, Trabzon

Trabzon , Black Sea Region , Turkey

About Hagia Sophia, Trabzon

The historic Hagia Sophia in Trabzon, Turkey, is an impressive 13th century Byzantine church which now operates as a museum boasting a range of fascinating ancient frescoes.

Originally constructed under the direction of Trebizond Emperor Manuel I between 1238 and 1263 AD, the Hagia Sophia was originally built to serve as a Church and its design reflects late-Byzantine architecture. It acted as such until 1461 when it was converted into a Mosque under the authority of Sultan Mehmed II after the Ottoman conquest of Trabzon, but during the next 400 years or so the building deteriorated rapidly.

By the mid-nineteenth century the Mosque was in desperate need of repair and restoration work began in 1864. However, with the advent of the First World War the once-grand Mosque was subject to a more utilitarian purpose; it was used both as a storehouse and hospital by Russian forces. In 1964, thanks to international co-operation and restoration efforts, the Hagia Sophia was finally opened to the public.

Today the Trabzon Hagia Sophia operates as a museum and visitors can explore the unique art and architecture found withing.

The building itself stands as an example of outstanding Byzantine architecture, containing three naves and three porticoes as well as numerous frescoes depicting Biblical scenes such as the birth, crucifixion and ascension of Jesus Christ, the twelve apostles and the frieze of angels. These frescoes had been covered after the Ottoman conquest and were only revealed during the 20th century restoration. Perhaps the most outstanding piece of decorative art within this group is the bas-relief frieze of Adam and Eve, located to the south.

In addition to the Christian decorative art that can be found throughout the Trabzon Hagia Sophia, there is also an abundance of Islamic art and architecture, including a domed and tiled roof and geometrically designed interlocking medallions, indicative of the Seljuk period. There are also tiles containing the crescent moon and stars as well as other motifs.

The tower was a later addition, when the Church was being converted into a Mosque. Little of the decorative art that was once installed into the Tower remains, although effort has recently been made to restore the paintings on the walls.

[Update Aug 2013: The museum has now closed and the site is now operating as a mosque]

Contributed by Ros Gammie

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