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The Byzantine Church of Hagia Sophia at Vize in Turkish Thrace





research & preservation

> State of Research

> State of Preservation


State of Research

Despite some early hagiographical references mentioning the episcopal church of Bizye, historical information about the building is scant until the late nineteenth-century, when several Greek authors mention the church and its dedication to Hagia Sophia. The most important among these early authors is Savvas Ioannides, whose comprehensive history of the city, written in 1886, mentions the church as well as several other ecclesiastical buildings in its proximity. Important details about the church are further recorded by a certain G. Lampousiades, who served as the region's superintendent of Antiquities during the Greek occupation of Eastern Thrace from 1920-22. Apart from a brief and superficial description of the church in an article by Feridun Dirimtekin, the building did not receive any scholarly attention until Cyril Mango devoted a short article to it in 1968. Based on a painted inscription recorded in the notes of Lampousiades and hagiographical information derived from the life of St. Mary the Younger, he was the first to suggest a terminus ante quem of ca. 900 for the construction of the church. Mango later revised his view somewhat in favor of a late eighth or ninth century date.

  Based primarily on formal analogies between the architecture of Hagia Sophia at Vize and Late Byzantine churches of the 'composite type' in Mistra, Semavi Eyice, on the other hand, suggested a date in the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries. Eyice's late dating has found little support among scholars writing in more recent decades. In a short, but detailed assessment of the church and its architecture, Robert Ousterhout and Yıldız Ötüken agreed with Mango on a date before the end of the ninth century. Vincenzo Ruggieri, whose study on the architecture of the 'Dark Ages' includes a comprehensive summary of the earlier literature on the church, has likewise supported a ninth-century date. His observations, however, remain general and do not contribute any new information. The only scholars who have -- at least in part -- accepted Semavi Eyice's late dating of the church, are Ayşegül Kahramankaptan and Özkan Ertuğrul, who surveyed the church in the early 1990s and published their results in the popular Turkish magazine Mozaik. In their article, they suggested two main phases of construction for the church, one dating to the the tenth, the other to the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries.

State of Preservation
Since the publication of Mango's and Eyice's studies in the late 1960s, the building has suffered dramatically from decades of neglect, heavy-handed restoration, and repeated acts of vandalism and theft. The building's dilapidated condition was already recognized in 1952/53, when the Vakıflar Bölge Müdürlüğü in Istanbul made preparations for repairs on the building. These, however, were never carried out. The church started to deteriorate further after the building ceased to function as a mosque in the late 1960s. Already a few years after the profanization of the mosque, the picturesque wooden gallery over the narthex was torn down or collapsed, leaving the narthex open to the elements. While a restoration of the building was finally authorized and in part carried out by the Vakıflar Bölge Müdürlüğü in the early 1980s, the building continued to deteriorate over the last two decades.   The preservation of large patches of fresco decoration in the interior as well as of numerous spolia -- including fragments of the liturgical furnishings of the Byzantine church -- remain a major concern. Even more problematic is the fact that considerable amounts of water collect in the north aisle and naos of the church. This is due in part to the insertion of drainage pipes in the adjacent retaining walls, which allows rainwater from the neighboring gardens to drain into the u-shaped corridors the church proper. Threatening the sturctural stability of the building more immediately, is the missing roof over the narthex. For the last three decades, rainwater has seaped into the narthex vaults and washed out the mortar between the stones. A collapse of the main narthex vault is only years if not months away.



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