Hagia Sophia in the Long 19th Century
This two-day symposium comprises a keynote address by Robert Nelson (Yale University) on Friday evening followed by a full day of presentations on Saturday. Friday's event will be at University Hall in Room 014 from 5:30pm-7:30pm. Saturday’s proceedings will take place at the Ohio Union in the Student-Alumni Council Room from 9:00am-5:00pm. Our confirmed list of speakers include:
Robert Nelson: “Hagia Sophia Reframed from the Czar’s Village to New York, Cleveland, Chicago, and San Francisco”
Zeynep Çelik: “History Reconsidered: Istanbul 1900”
Robert Ousterhout: “The Temple of the World’s Desire."
Tülay Artan: “Paradoxes of Hagia Sophia’s Ablution Fountain”
Ünver Rüstem: “Hagia Sophia’s Second Conversion: The Building Campaign of Mahmud I and the Transformation from Mosque to Complex (1739–43)”
Benjamin Anderson: “Folkloric Hagia Sophia”
A. Hilal Uğurlu: “From Ceremony to Spectacle: The Changing Perception of Hagia Sophia Through the Night of Decree (Layla’t-ul Kadr) Prayer Ceremonies”
Emily Neumeier: “From Wall to Roundel: Calligraphy and Architectural Renovation at Hagia Sophia”
Aslı Menevşe: “Dealing with ‘An Ancient and Venerable Monument’: The Fossati Restorations in Context”
It is safe to say that Hagia Sophia—the hallmark of Istanbul’s skyline—is an architectural monument that has led multiple lives. Almost 1500 years ago, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I originally constructed the basilica dedicated to God’s “Holy Wisdom” at the heart of the imperial capital of Constantinople. Upon the Ottoman conquest of the city in 1453, Sultan Mehmed II converted the church into a mosque, providing a space for Friday prayer for almost five centuries. Today, the building is a secular museum and understood as a monument of world heritage, a designation that makes it both a canonical work of Western art history and a lightning rod in current debates about cultural preservation and identity politics.
This modern dynamic took shape during the long nineteenth century, when European travelers, architects, and scholars “discovered” Hagia Sophia's significance as an architectural masterpiece and became engaged in its restoration. If the western European side of this story has been studied closely in recent decades, the local receptions of the building during the same period remain poorly understood. To what extent did local actors play a role in the creation of Hagia Sophia as a modern monument, and did they create alternative views that stand in need of recovery? In this symposium, we aim to seek out the audiences of Hagia Sophia beyond its Western interpreters, from Ottoman officials to the diverse communities of Istanbul. Chronologically bracketed by the major renovation of the building in the 1740s and its conversion into a museum in 1934, the symposium aims to trace the gradual transformation of Hagia Sophia within the Ottoman imaginary from külliye (mosque complex) to eser (monument), that is, from lived space to archaeological artifact. Participants will include historians of art and architecture and scholars of Byzantine and Ottoman studies, and will address both the discourses that various actors constructed around the monument and the physical changes to its structure, decoration, and surroundings.
This event is being organized by Emily Neumeier from the History of Art Department and Benjamin Anderson (Cornell University). All inquiries can be addressed to Dr. Neumeier at email@example.com