Hagia Sophia/Ayasofya

Professor Judith Herrin, one of our Executive committee members had the following piece published in the Washington Post on Wednesday; you can read it below:

Converting Hagia Sophia into a mosque is an act of cultural cleansing

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is famous for saying, “If we lose Istanbul, we lose Turkey.” Last year, he lost the city’s municipal elections. Today, he is trying to reverse his sliding popularity by backing a religious fundamentalism that threatens Turkey’s minorities, the country’s secular character and Istanbul’s historic role as a tolerant metropolis where Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths coexisted for centuries.

On Friday, Erdogan’s shortsighted, cynical campaign struck at the very heart of world culture and Istanbul’s essential character. At his instigation, Turkey’s highest administrative court issued a scandalously dangerous and bigoted decision: Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO world heritage site in Istanbul and a global symbol of world history and multicultural representation, should convert from a museum back to a mosque.

By serving as a museum, Hagia Sophia, a vast, 1,500-year-old structure that previously served as a church and then a mosque, represented the essence of Istanbul, a place where world-changing empires and religions conflicted and intersected but whose monuments and artifacts can be enjoyed by all. Friday’s ruling marks a symbolic end to this legacy of tolerance.

Hagia Sophia’s history contains the city’s history. It is a Byzantine church that has dominated the skyline of Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, for the city’s entire history. When the Ottomans conquered the city in 1453, it became a mosque. In 1935, Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern, secular Turkey, made it a museum, and Hagia Sophia was opened to all as a cultural and scientific site. It became a tremendous tourist attraction. Visitors marvel at not only its structure but also the layers of history it embodies.

Constantinople was founded in 330 A.D. by the Roman Emperor Constantine I. He selected an amazing site overlooking the Bosporus with strategic control of the Black Sea. In his “New” Rome, he built an imperial capital that outstripped “Old” Rome.

His son constructed the first church dedicated to “Hagia Sophia,” Holy Wisdom. It served as the cathedral, where the patriarch conducted services attended by the emperor and empress as well as the local population.

As the city expanded, so did the church. In 537, Emperor Justinian, whose rule stretched from Italy to Sinai, dedicated the present structure as an expression of might and piety. It has an enormous dome, 102 feet in diameter, at a height of 184 feet. For nearly 1,000 years, it was the highest and largest in the world.

Decorated in contrasting colored marbles brought from all parts of the Mediterranean, the entire interior surface of Hagia Sophia glowed with golden and silver mosaics that reflected the light flooding in through its many windows.

Justinian’s original church had one internal decoration: a monumental, glittering cross in the dome, now removed. In the late ninth century, figural mosaics were added: the Virgin and Child in the main apse, with the archangels Michael and Gabriel on either side. Later rulers, including the Empress Zoe, commemorated themselves with beautiful gold mosaic portraits and Christian icons.

The great church established the standard. When the Arabs broke out of the deserts to proclaim the faith of Islam, they modeled their first mosques on the Christian domes pioneered by the Byzantines. So when the Turkish Sultan Mehmet II breached the triple walls and rode into Constantinople in May 1453, he could order the symbol of the city, Hagia Sophia, to be transformed into a mosque rather than destroying it.

Under Islamic law, the figural mosaics were either removed or plastered over, a huge loss and a warning of what might happen again. Indeed, while Turkish officials on Friday promised the mosaics won’t be removed, on Monday they announced that they will be covered by curtains or lasers during Muslim prayers.

To turn the unrivaled building back into a place of worship threatens open access to a magnificent structure and the building’s invaluable mosaic decorations. By restricting access to Istanbul’s greatest historical legacy, Erdogan assaults the cosmopolitan traditions that make the city and Turkey itself a crossroads for the world. It is an act of cultural cleansing.

This is a decision of a beleaguered autocrat — the most dangerous — motivated by a desire to punish Istanbul’s inhabitants, who voted decisively against him, and by a desire to consolidate his position by stirring sectarian animosity between his pious followers and those attached to secular traditions.

Hagia Sophia belongs to the world. Its fate is not just a matter, as Erdogan defensively insists, of Turkish sovereignty.

Hagia Sophia/Ayasofya

Members who have been following developments may be interested to read the following open letter which circulated widely in the lead up to the decision and can be found here.

Dr Angeliki Lymberopoulou, Chair of the SPBS Publications Committee, has prepared a petition which you can sign up to by clicking on this link. If you would like to discuss this with her, please contact her via email (a.lymberopoulou@open.ac.uk).

Professor Robert Ousterhout has written a long blog on the same topic which can be accessed here:

https://blog.iae.org.tr/en/uncategorized-en/from-hagia-sophia-to-ayasofya-architecture-and-the-persistence-of-memory

Hagia Sophia/Ayasofya

Professor John Haldon, President of the Association Internationale des Études Byzantines, has written to the President of the Turkish Republic, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, regarding the present reconsideration of the status of Hagia Sophia. This letter is endorsed by the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies and is available in English and Turkish PDFs below.

Hagia Sophia

Ayasofya

Online Event: Byzantium at Ankara

Global Byzantium at Ankara: From Past to Present (Summer Seminar Series)

July 2020

The Byzantine Seminar Series “Byzantium at Ankara” is an event organized and hosted in collaboration by the Department of History at Bilkent University and the Department of History of Art at Hacettepe University which will be held over the entire 2019/2020 Academic Year as organized by Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sercan Yandim and Asst. Prof. Dr. Luca Zavagno (Bilkent University).

The object of the series of talks is to engage Byzantine scholars from different backgrounds and areas of expertise in a conversation on issues which relate and resonate with the current socio-political and economic situation. The importance of building \ these connections should indeed allow to put Byzantium in a global, modern and historical perspective .The idea is to have an inter and multidisciplinary approach to all-encompassing topics like “Famines and Plagues”, “Crisis and Migrations across land and sea frontiers” and “iconography of Byzantine disasters and Renaissance” as debates will be open to scholars and students as well as Medieval and Byzantine enthusiasts.

Schedule

I. Famine and Plagues in Byzantium: archaeology, documentary and hagiography in a comparative perspective – Friday, 10 July 2020 h. 19:00 (Istanbul Time)

Discussants: Beate Bölhendorf Arslan (Philipps Universität Marburg), William Caraher (University of North Dakota), Antje Fehrman (Freier Üniversitat Berlin), and Aneilya Barnes (Coastal Carolina University)

II. Crisis and Migrations across the Mediterranean frontier: was it really all about a Dark Ages after all? – Friday, 17 July 2020 h. 19.00 (Istanbul Time)

Discussants: Rebecca Darley (Birkbeck University), Jonathan Jarrett (University of Leeds), Nicholas Bakirtzis (Cyprus Research Institute) and Luca Zavagno (Bilkent University)

III. Picturing disasters (and Renaissance) in Byzantium – Friday, 24 July 2020 h. 19.00 (Istanbul Time)

Participants: Sercan Yandim (Hacettepe University), Renate Burri (University of Bern), and Ivana Jevtic (Koç University)

All the sessions will be broadcasted via zoom and upon pre-registration at luca.zavagno@bilkent.edu.tr or sercan.yandim@hacettepe.edu.tr a link to attend the seminars will be send one hour before the start of the meeting.

Bulletin of British Byzantine Studies

The entire series of the BBBS, from issue 1 in 1975 through to issue 45 in 2019, is now available to download. Collectively they provide a unique insight into the development of Byzantine Studies in the UK.

Thanks are due to the present BBBS editor, Dr Fiona Haarer, for her diligent efforts in digitising the older issues.

Call for Papers: Colour, Emotion and Senses

Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, University of Birmingham, May 2021

Deadline: 31 July 2020

We are pleased to announce the Call for Papers for the 21st Postgraduate Colloquium of the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies at the University of Birmingham, U.K.

Papers and posters are invited on the theme of colour, emotion and the senses. The investigation of the above themes has the potential to grant insight into the everyday experiences of people, transcending class, gender and race. This colloquium aims to explore the lives of people across the eastern Mediterranean from a variety of perspectives, from Late Antiquity through to the Present Day, from textual sources to visual culture and archaeology.

Keynote Speaker: Professor Margaret Mullett, Harvard University/Dumbarton Oaks emerita.

Suggested topics include, but are not limited to:

– Taste, food and feasting
– Sound and celebration
– Family, kinship and relations
– Religion and the sensory experience
– Music and dance
– Costume and colour

Papers of approximately 20 minutes or posters (maximum size A1) related to any of the fields covered by Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies are welcome. Please submit abstracts of no more than 250 words no later than 31 July 2020 to 2020CBOMGScolloquium@gmail.com.

For further details, see https://gemuob.wordpress.com/annual-colloquium-3/

Online Resource: Syrian Architectural Heritage Released on Wikimedia Commons

Dumbarton Oaks

More than 9,700 photographs of Late Roman and Byzantine monuments in Syria are being uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, in keeping with our Access Initiative to make Dumbarton Oaks collections and scholarship more broadly available. In 2016, retired historian Frank Kidner donated photographs he had taken of Syrian sites in the 1980s and 1990s to Dumbarton Oaks. Emphasizing ancient villages in the modern-day province Idlib, west of Aleppo along the border with Turkey, the Frank Kidner Photographs collection documents sites of historical and archaeological significance while capturing scenes of daily life. His poignant photographs of children playing among the nearly 2,000-year-old ruins stand in stark contrast to familiar images of the ongoing refugee and displacement crisis stemming from the Syrian Civil War. Kidner created a comprehensive resource—drawing together topography, evidence of communities that once lived in the region, and architectural details—that is useful for researchers and scholars across a breadth of fields.

Online Resource: Woven Interiors: Furnishing Early Medieval Egypt Catalogue

Dumbarton Oaks

Experience the vibrant colors and array of textures that enlivened interior spaces in early medieval Egypt. Recent exhibition Woven Interiors—a collaboration with The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum—presented rare and fragile masterpieces from major American institutions, including many textiles that had never before been exhibited or had remained in storage for decades. Now, download the digital catalogue free of charge to explore some sixty remarkable pieces. Essays from curators Gudrun Bühl, Sumru Belger Krody, and Dumbarton Oaks Assistant Curator of the Byzantine Collection Elizabeth Dospěl Williams highlight major themes of the exhibition, including aesthetics, sacred imagery, comfort at home, and continuity and change. To purchase a hard copy of the catalogue, contact our Museum Shop.

Funded PhD Positions, ‘Ancient, Byzantine and Medieval Studies’

Universität Wien, Austria

Deadline: 6 September 2020

The Vienna Doctoral School of Historical and Cultural Studies invites applications for 6 fully funded doctoral positions (3 years, non-tenure).

The newly established Vienna Doctoral School of Historical and Cultural Studies (SHCS) invites applications from excellent doctoral candidates who intend to pursue their PhD in a vibrant, international academic environment at the University of Vienna.

To apply, you must hold an MA or equivalent degree. Please send an outline of your research project (15.000 characters), a CV, reference letters by two senior scholars, and a statement, why you would like to join the cluster of your choice. Applications will be accepted until June 5th, 2020. You will be informed about the outcome of your application by September 6, 2020. The semester begins October 1st, 2020

The successful applicants’ primary task will be to complete a PhD degree. Active involvement in the activities of the SHCS is expected, while participation in relevant graduate courses offered at Vienna University is required. You will conduct courses and you will participate in the evaluation and quality assurance of the school. The salary is corresponds to the collective agreement for Universities and is limited to a duration of three years. In addition, travel and publication funds are partly available upon application and depending on budget restrictions. Successful applicants will be employed as University Assistant (prae doc). Their contract will run for 3 years and comes with full social security and health insurance benefits. No extra housing allowance will be provided.

For more information, see here.