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December 6, 2010

Restoration On Hagia Sophia's Canvasses Completed

December 6, 2010
Hurriyet Daily News

Canvasses on the walls of Hagia Sophia bearing the names of Muslim holy figures have been repaired and restored following a year of work. The iconic canvasses, which are each about eight meters in diameter, were placed there during 19th-century restoration conducted by two Italians. Modern restorers also repaired chandeliers and stained-glass windows.

The Hagia Sophia’s iconic circular canvasses with Arabic writing have been returned to their former glory following recently completed restoration.

The canvasses, which feature the names of Allah, the Prophet Mohammed, the first four caliphs – Abu Bakr, Omar, Osman and Ali – as well as the Prophet’s grandchildren, Hasan and Husayn, were restored with funding from the 2010 Istanbul Capital of Culture Agency.

The agency also supported the year-long restoration of the museum’s large, wrought-iron chandeliers for candles and oil lamps, as well as the building’s stained-glass windows in the sanctuary.

Canvasses a 19th-century creation

Contrary to popular belief, the canvasses were not affixed in the upper portions of the edifice following the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, but were placed there during 19th-century restoration by Giuseppe Fossati and Gaspare Fossati, two Italian brothers who were commissioned to do the work by Sultan Abdulmecid II and financed by an Arab sheikh.

Gaspare Fossati had originally gone for work to St. Petersburg, where he was named an architect to the Russian court. From there he was asked to design and build the Russian Embassy in Istanbul. The series of events led from one commission to another until 1847, when the Ottoman sultan asked the Fossati brothers to restore Hagia Sophia. The work lasted two years and employed 800 workers.

The Fossati brothers did nothing to the structure of the building itself, with the exception of filling in cracks and placing an iron chain around the dome to strengthen it. They left extraordinary drawings of the structure and the interior while also modernizing the mihrab and the loge, where the sultan could worship unseen by the worshippers on the floor of the mosque. The pair further repaired the imperial köşk, through which the sultan could enter the mosque from the palace side, thus avoiding contact with the general public.

At the sultan’s request, the brothers also reportedly uncovered and repaired some of the mosaics that had been covered with plaster; although the sultan is said to have admired the work, he later ordered them to be recovered, according to historians.

The eight canvasses are made of wood and leather and measure roughly eight meters in diameter. The names of Allah and Mohammed can be found over the apse, while the four caliphs mark the four corners of the dome. Hasan and Husayn, meanwhile, are found in the nave.

The canvasses, meanwhile, were painted by calligrapher Kazasker İzzet Efendi. The large pieces are so securely attached to the walls that they reportedly cannot be removed without risking damage to the walls. Some have also said the canvasses replaced panels that were there before the middle of the 19th century, but it is unknown what these panels were, or whether they actually existed.

Other calligraphic panels have been taken out over time and placed in the Sultanahmet Mosque and the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, now located at Ibrahim Paşa Palace.

İzzet Efendi is remembered for his fine calligraphy, having mastered several different styles of writing – an unusual feat since it often takes years to master just one. He is also revered as one of the finest composers of music from the 19th-century Ottoman Empire and is said to have first attracted attention for his beautiful voice. He rose rapidly in the ranks of the judiciary and eventually served as the chief justice of the Anatolian and the European sides of the empire.

Read more here.