A Monument of Unaging Intellect: Hagia Sophia and the Politics of Preservation

Date(s) - February 28, 2023
5:00 pm - 6:30 pm

Coach House, Green College, UBC

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On November 24, 1934, the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Turkey issued a decree that converted the Great Mosque of Ayasofya and former Byzantine cathedral of Hagia Sophia into a museum. Emphasizing the building’s universal cultural and artistic value as an “architectural masterpiece” over its more divisive religious and political status as a house of worship and symbol of conquest, the committee charged with the transfer of title and responsibility explicitly presented this extraordinary historical building to “all humanity.” Some 85 years later, in 2020, such enlightened attempts to neutralize a contested religious site and create a sense of shared cultural heritage was sacrificed on the altar of political expediency following a long-simmering struggle to re-convert Ayasofya Museum into a functioning mosque. This talk explores aspects of the history of Hagia Sophia with a special emphasis on twentieth-century efforts to safeguard and explore this extraordinary architectural monument and to preserve its medieval mosaic decoration during the 1930s and 40s.

Co-hosted with the SNF Centre for Hellenic Studies, SFU.

Holger Klein was educated in Art History, Early Christian Archaeology, and German Literature at the universities of Freiburg, Munich, London and Bonn. His research focuses on the history and historiography of Late Antique, Early Medieval and Byzantine art and architecture, especially on the cult of relics and issues of cultural and artistic exchange in the Medieval Mediterranean. He joined Columbia University as an Assistant Professor in 2000 and was named The Lisa and Bernard Selz Professor of Medieval Art History in 2018. In 2015–16, he held an Alliance Visiting Professorship at the Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne. At Columbia University, Professor Klein held several academic leadership positions. He served as Chairman of the Department of Art History and Archaeology, Director of Graduate Studies, Director of the Sakıp Sabancı Center for Turkish Studies, and, currently, Faculty Director of Casa Muraro, Columbia University’s new Research and Teaching Center in Venice. Professor Klein is the recipient of several awards and prizes, including the 50th annual Mark Van Doren Award for Teaching, the Lenfest Distinguished Faculty Award, and the Wm. Theodore de Bary Award for Distinguished Service to the Core Curriculum.


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