Former Christian Basilica in Chora, later turned museum and recently turned into a mosque. Photo on the left is before transformation and right photo is after the transformation into a mosque.

By Asia News / Agencies

Oct 29 2020

The first Muslim rite is scheduled for Friday 30 October in the former Christian basilica, later turned into a museum. A story similar to the even more famous Hagia Sophia. A white veil drawn over original symbols of the building. But there is no shortage of criticism: risk of destroying “its nature and the artistic value”.

ISTANBUL – Turkish authorities have covered frescoes and mosaics of the former monastery of Christ the Saviour in Chora ahead of the first Islamic prayer service to be held in the building which was formerly a museum and recently converted into a mosque at the instigation of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The function is scheduled for Friday 30 October, when the Byzantine building will be open to the faithful of Mohammed, completing its transformation into a Muslim place of worship.

Following the presidential decree that provides for the transformation of the Chora museum to a mosque, the images of Jesus, frescoes and icons that testify to its Christian roots were covered with a white curtain.

Erdogan’s move was based on the decision taken by the Council of State in November 2019, according to which the use of the building as a museum was “illegal”. Previously, the same Council had given the go-ahead to Erdogan to transform the Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque.

The Kariye Cami Museum is located in the Fatih district, the most populous and confessional in Istanbul. The building dates back to 534, during the Byzantine period. The internal walls, pillars and domes are entirely covered with mosaics and frescoes that are dated around the 11th century.

After the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans (1453), the monastery was transformed into a mosque in 1511, in a manner very similar to the fate of Hagia Sophia. In 1945, the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Turkey converted the mosque into a museum.

Among the critical voices is that of Mahir Polat, deputy secretary general of the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality (Imm), who confirmed the “covering of frescoes and mosaics” of one of the “masterpieces of world art history”.

This choice, he continues, “will destroy the character and artistic value of the building”. In his message he attached two images (see photo), one before and one after the transformation into a mosque, underlining that the project is undertaken and managed by the “ministry and its institutions that manage and protect the cultural heritage of Turkey”.

Ali Erbaş, president of the Council for Religious Affairs, announced the opening of the building for prayer on October 30th. Islam prohibits the use of images and icons, hence the choice to cover mosaics and frescoes, in the past with a layer of plaster and today with a white curtain so as not to compromise their artistic and cultural value. – AsiaNews