July of 2020 was marked as the month when one of the most precious world heritage assets of Turkey, the former church of Hagia Sophia, was transformed from the museum to the mosque. This highly controversial political move causing an outcry on both domestic and international forums, and raised questions about the future of the building and its wonderful frescoes and mosaics. In other news, the archaeological discoveries in Pergamon pushed back the history of the city by several centuries while excavations resumed in Oylum Höyük on the Syrian border. Finally, Sümela Monastery in the Black Sea region reopened after restoration.
The city, now called Istanbul, was once known as Constantinople, the capital of the mighty Eastern Roman Empire, frequently referred to as Byzantium. The emperors and their courts that resided in the city required suitable accommodation, of the magnificent proportions reflecting their power and majesty. Sadly, almost nothing has been preserved of the Great Palace of Constantinople, the main royal residence from 330 to 1081 that served as the centre of imperial administration. The most of the remains of this palace currently lie below the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and other Ottoman-era buildings, to the south-east to the former Hippodrome, now the Sultanahmet Square. However, one part of the palatial complex is still visible above the ground, facing the waters of the Sea of Marmara. This building, known as the Bukoleon Palace, is located to the south of the Great Palace, and to the east of the Church of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus. Now partly demolished, it once served as the prestigious seafront residence of the emperors.
June of 2020 saw a gradual revival of cultural tourism in Turkey. Archaeological sites, such as Sagalassos and Ephesus as well as Sümela Monastery, were re-opened, even if on a limited scale. Moreover, several restoration projects were announced, including the beautiful and unique theatre-stadium complex in Aizanoi.
Ekmekçizade Ahmet Paşa Caravanserai is one of the most precious historical and cultural assets of Edirne. It is also known as the Ayşe Kadın or Eşe Kadın Hanı because it was erected in a place where an older inn had stood. That predecessor of Ekmekçizade Caravanserai was built on the orders of Ayşe Kadın, the daughter of Sultan Mehmed I. She also had a mosque constructed nearby that is known as Ayşe Kadın Mosque. The neighbourhood where the mosque and the caravanserai were erected is still called Ayşekadın.
What a feeling of freedom invades the senses now that we have the option of self-determination as to our movements and actions once again. Naturally, there are guidelines to be adhered to if we are to be further free of this virulent Coronavirus, therefore, with freedoms come responsibilities. ‘Caution’ and ‘social distancing’ must be the bywords along this path to safety.