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Turkey revives plan to convert another iconic Byzantine site into a mosque

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Authorities in Turkey are moving ahead with the conversion of another important Byzantine monument, the Chora Church, into a mosque, with plans to open it to Muslim worshippers for Friday prayers on February 23, the Yeni Safak newspaper has reported.

 

The plan to convert the church, which had been operating as a museum for nearly 80 years, dates from 2020, when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a decree that also included turning the iconic Hagia Sophia church into a mosque.

While Hagia Sophia was inaugurated as a mosque in July of that same year, the Chora Church scheme was put on hold so that restoration work could be carried out.

The conversion of Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a powerful symbol for the world’s Orthodox Christians, sparked an international outcry and caused an additional strain in tense ties between Athens and Ankara.

 

Chora Church, or Church of the Holy Savior, is another emblematic monument listed among the masterpieces of UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

 
 

It was originally built in the early 4th century as part of a monastery complex, outside the Constantinian land wall. It was rebuilt in the 11th century to take the form of an inscribed cross, while the church suffered a partial collapse in the 12th century, possibly from an earthquake. The present structure dates mostly from the 14th century. 

“Its mosaics and frescoes, commissioned by the Byzantine humanist and poet Theodore Metochites (14th century) form one of the most complete ensembles of late Byzantine art to survive in Istanbul,” according to UNESCO.

Chora Church was the first to be looted when the Ottomans conquered the city in 1453 and was converted into a mosque under Sultan Bayezid II in the early 16th century, when it was renamed Kariye Camii and a minaret was added to the structure. 

 

The building was designated a museum by the Turkish government in 1945.