Friday, November 28, 2008

A Monumental Struggle to Preserve Hagia Sophia

A Monumental Struggle to Preserve Hagia Sophia | Travel | Smithsonian Magazine
Visible for miles across the Sea of Marmara, Istanbul's Hagia Sophia, with its giant buttresses and soaring minarets, symbolizes a cultural collision of epic proportions. (The name translates from the Greek as "Sacred Wisdom.") The structure stands not only as a magnificent architectural treasure but also as a complex accretion of myth, symbol and history. The landmark entwines the legacies of medieval Christianity, the Ottoman Empire, resurgent Islam and modern secular Turkey in a kind of Gordian knot, confounding preservationists who want to save it from decay and restore its former glory.

"For months at a time, you don't see anybody working," said Ahunbay, a professor of architecture at Istanbul Technical University. She had directed a partial restoration of the building's exterior in the late 1990s and is regarded by conservators as its guardian angel. "One year there is a budget, the next year there is none," she said with a sigh. "We need a permanent restoration staff, conservators for the mosaics, frescoes and masonry, and we need to have them continuously at work."

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