UNESCO requests inspection of changes to Hagia Sopia, Chora

UNESCO has requested from Turkey permission to examine the changes and possible alterations to Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia and Chora, two UNESCO World Heritage sites that were transformed into mosques,Duvar news site reported on Wednesday.

UNESCO Assistant Director-General Ernesto Ottone has asked for the inspection to be carried out by special envoy Mounir Bouchenaki, a renowned archaeologist, Duvar said.

The organisation’s assistant director is particularly concerned about reports on Turkey’s intervention with elements in both structures deemed valuable for Christianity, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported.

Turkey in July and August announced the conversion into mosques of the 6th century Hagia Sophia and the 4th century Chora (Kariye), Byzantine structures that were for decades functioning as museums. Their conversion followed court rulings that said the building’s conversion into museums were unlawful.

The decision to change the status of the structures has raised questions about the extensive Byzantine mosaics and frescoes they house. 

Turkish officials have said a curtaining and lighting system is being used to cover the images, as human images are not permitted in the vicinity of Muslim prayer, according to Islamic teachings.