holy wisdom

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Islam came to Trabzon rather late. Maybe it was because of its city walls (which now mostly lie in ruins) or maybe it was because its inhabitants were so famously stubborn and hot-headed, anyway Trabzon remained Christian (and independent) for a long time, even after almost all of its surrounding territories had adopted Islam.

It remained a Byzantine city with churches that must have looked like the ones I had seen in Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Then, in the 15th century, Trabzon was sacked, ceasing to be independent. I don’t know if the Christian population subsequently converted to Islam, or if they left, or if something else happened to them. Their churches, however, mostly became mosques.

The most famous example of this is Trabzon’s own Hagia Sophia (“Holy Wisdom”), from the 12th century. It became a mosque after the takeover and stayed that way for centuries, until it was converted into a museum in the 20th century.

Today, however, it isn’t really anything anymore.

When I get there, the Hagia Sophia is merely a ruin with some scaffolding around it. The doors are locked, building materials are piled up outside (presumably for restoration purposes), and there is an old man cutting stones with a buzzsaw. He tells me he is preparing to use them in a wall around the premises.

It looks bleak. There are some wall paintings, but many of the people depicted in them don’t have any faces anymore. Others appear to have been completely scratched off. It reminds me of eyeless and faceless statues in China. But it also reminds me of the Islamic ban on pictures of sentient beings (i.e. humans and animals).

When I notice the ceiling, I chuckle.

It seems to have remained largely untouched. Faces upon faces are looking down at me from above, timeless testament to the fact that sometimes even religious zealots are too lazy to fetch a step ladder.

Hagia Sophia Trabzon

islamicized church

man cutting stones

inside the Hagia Sophia of Trabzon

faceless wallpainting


wall painting with face

last supper with faces

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