Culture Minister calls conversion of Chora museum into a mosque ‘a regression into the past’

The Monastery of Chora in Istanbul is one of the most important Byzantine monuments, Culture & Sports Minister Lina Mendoni said on Friday, and turning it from a museum into a mosque is “an insult to world cultural heritage.”

Responding to a decision by the Turkish government that follows a similar change recently for another UNESCO World Heritage site, the iconic Hagia Sophia cathedral, Mendoni said that “the mosaics and its wall paintings are of unmatched beauty. Its depiction of the Virgin Mary is found in all handbooks of Byzantine history and archaeology throughout the world.”

The decision to change the museum’s status “is a second provocative act by the Turkish president that has been condemned by the Greek government through the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the European Commission,” the Culture minister said. “It’s sad to see, in the 21st century, a regression to the past instead of having religious tolerance and multiculturalism dominate. We all talk about dialog among cultures, about consensus, tolerance and broadmindedness. Such acts return us to the past,” she added.

Built in the 4th century AD and last restored by the Byzantines in the 11th and 12th centuries, the monastery was converted into a mosque in 1511. Modern restoration to uncover the interior decor began by American scholars in 1948 and in 1958 it was turned into the Kariye Museum. Not as well known as Hagia Sophia, Chora’s restorations through the 1950s brought to light the exquisitively detailed mosaic and wall paintings depicting a richness of themes and colors.

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