Experts at the Turkish Culture Ministry’s restoration laboratory are currently restoring 452 historical Byzantine church icons, dating back up to 7th century. The icons had been gathered from different cities across Turkey and have been kept Hagia Sophia. The historic Byzantine basilica Church was converted into a mosque following the Ottoman occupation in 1453 before it was turned into a museum in 1935.
“It is a very important project for us. These icons are historical assets. We need to protect them. So far 45 icons have been restored,” laboratory manager Ali Osman Avşar told Anadolu Agency explaining that the majority of the icons that have been restored actually belong to the 17th and 18th century.
The project has been running under the auspices of the Culture and Tourism Ministry since 2015 and in collaboration with Professor Dr. Sema Doğan, an art historian from Ankara’s Hacettepe University.
In the meantime Dr Doğan is classifying the icons based on type and era and aims to release a publication after they are restored to their authentic colour and depiction.
“We want to exhibit [the icons] in a museum, which will be opened after we finish the restoration because there is not enough space to display in Hagia Sophia,” Avşar said.
“Our experts analysed their paints and the wood they were painted on before beginning the conservation work. They applied fumigation to clear them of harmful bugs and bacteria,” he told Anadolu Agency (AA).
Italian icon restoration experts Professor Lorenzo Casametti and Rafaella Greca have joined the team running workshops on how to properly restore icons whilst preserving them.
“It is a lengthy project, as it takes time and requires a patient approach so as not to damage the icons. These objects are very important for the Christian world,” Mrs Greca said.