Perched on a grassy hill overlooking the Black Sea, the Hagia Sophia church in the northeastern port city of Trabzon is hailed as one of the finest, and pitifully rare, examples of late Byzantine architecture still standing in Turkey. As The Economist’s Bruce Clark put it in Twice a Stranger, his much acclaimed history of the population exchange between Turkey and Greece in the early 1920s, “the frescoed biblical scenes in the church of Hagia Sophia … are evidence that the Greek spirit flowered with particular brilliance in the 13th century.”
Today, the Greek spirit at Hagia Sophia has been all but extinguished, its frescoes determinedly concealed by tenting stretched under its central dome, and its magnificent tiled floors obscured by crimson carpeting. A Turkish flag hoisted by a newly erected preacher’s pulpit drove the message home: Hagia Sophia is ours. What had happened?