Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
online news
Restoring the Hagia Sophia June 2, 1998
by Spencer P.M. Harrington

[image] The principal church of the Byzantine empire for nine centuries, and the principal Ottoman mosque for nearly five, the Hagia Sophia is now undergoing repairs, cleaning, and consolidation. (Courtesy Ali Kilickaya, Hagia Sophia Museum) [LARGER IMAGE]

One quarter of the mosaic decorating the dome of Istanbul's Hagia Sophia has been restored as part of an overall conservation plan that includes monitoring the building's resistance to earthquakes. The Turkish government this year allocated $540,000 for the restoration of the building, which was recently included on the World Monuments Watch's list of the 100 most endangered sites. A 1993 UNESCO mission to Turkey noted falling plaster, dirty marble facings, broken windows, decorative paintings damaged by moisture, and ill-maintained lead roofing. A 1998 mission reported that the lead roofing had been repaired, and that studies of the effects of moisture and condensation were under way. The UNESCO mission recommended an investigation of the impact of the increasing numbers of visitors on the level of humidity in Hagia Sophia. The mission advised that temporary measures for increasing the circulation of air in the building might lessen humidity, and suggested that further excavations in the area around the Hagia Sophia could provide more information about the two earlier churches built on the site. Finally, UNESCO's report on the visit urged a written plan of action stating preservation and management goals.

[image] Scaffolding has been erected under the building's central dome to aid in cleaning and restoring its mosaics.
(Courtesy Ali Kilickaya, Hagia Sophia Museum) [LARGER IMAGE (left)] [LARGER IMAGE (right)]

© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America