Category: Istanbul.

Japanese experts say human breath damages Hagia Sophia

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News

If Japanese experts determine that human breath increases the humidity level in the Hagia Sophia Museum, the number of visitors to the building will be limited. Research about the issue will start Feb 16 with the participation of Japanese scientists

A debate about potentially limiting visitors to Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Museum has been sparked by claims that human breath may harm the ancient structure.

Japanese experts organized a scientific session last week in Tokyo with the participation of Hagia Sophia Museum Director Ahmet Haluk Dursun to discuss whether or not breathing inside the building causes a harmful increase in humidity in the historic structure.

A team made up of Japanese experts will come to Istanbul on Feb. 16 to conduct initial research. If the team determines that human breath causes an increase in humidity levels, a quota will be imposed on the number of visitors.

According to information provided by Dursun, the number of visitors reached a record level last year, when 2.5 million people visited the museum.

Lost angels of Hagia Sophia unearthed

Hagia Sophia has also been in the news recently due to the removal of huge scaffoldings that were set up to support the dome and preserve the unique mosaics during a restoration process that began in the museum in 1992, right after the building was put on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The restoration process revealed two angel faces blocked with wooden covers by Swiss architect Gaspare Fossati during the Sultan Abdülmecit period, as well as figures of saints in the column on the left side of the entrance. A few legendary icons that have been kept in storage and never shown publicly will be displayed for the first time, along with artwork from the Ottoman period, at an exhibition to open in the spring.

Cottages in courtyard demolished

After his return from Tokyo, Dursun visited the museum with the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review and explained the details of the extensive work done to the building. Known for his research and scientific publications on Hagia Sophia, Dursun not only removed the scaffolding, but also demolished all the museum workers’ booths that were located in the building’s courtyard. The next place set to be demolished is Dursun’s own office.

After the demolition, the Şehzadeler Mosque, built by architect Mimar Sinan next to Hagia Sophia, can be clearly seen from the courtyard. The sultans’ tombs built by Sinan in the courtyard and kept closed since the Ottoman Empire have also been restored and opened to visitors.

Danger in deep corridors

In addition to continuous scientific data-gathering and research work, legends about the historic structure are also unending. The best known among these stories is one about water tunnels under the structure. Dursun said that his team dug into the ground a few years ago with cave experts to do research. “There are wells, horizontal cisterns and three water channels,” he said. “They are very narrow corridors, but [wide] enough for a human to pass through.”

Saying that problems arose because of the corridors, Dursun explained: “There is the same danger of humidity in the ground. We are trying to balance the water under the structure. When it exceeds 1 meter, this is a danger signal for us. But we are lucky that the structure is on rocky ground. Humidity can destroy Hagia Sophia.”

Last year, thermal tools were placed in the museum in order to measure humidity levels and vibrations, according to Dursun, who said that the data received every day is reviewed periodically by a scientific committee. Calling the museum the best-protected point within Turkish borders, he added, “Hagia Sophia is the heritage not only of Turkey, but also of the world.”

The building’s unique mosaics, one of its most distinctive features today, were not recognized as something of value in the past, Dursun added. “Some of the mosaics that fell down from the dome were sold, and others on the ground were stolen and disappeared,” he said. “Only 53 percent of these unique mosaics exist in the dome today.”


Category: Istanbul
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