The famous building has been a museum since 1935.

By Andrea Romano
July 13, 2020
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People visiting the Hagia Sophia seen on July 13, 2020 in Istanbul, Turkey. The Council of State, Turkey's highest administrative body, revoked the sixth-century Hagia Sophia's status as a museum, clearing the way for it to be turned back into a mosque. The president announced his decision on Friday following the court ruling, and the monument has been closed since then, but people now visit the site and take photos. - The Hagia Sophia was built 1,500 years ago as an Orthodox Christian cathedral, but was first converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest, then into a museum.
Erhan Demirtas/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul is officially being converted back into a mosque, to a mixed reception.

According to CNN, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ordered the conversion of Hagia Sophia from its status as a museum back into a mosque. Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum in 1935, but a court recently overturned the decision.

The site will now be managed by the country’s Presidency of Religious Affairs, rather than the Ministry of Culture, CNN reported. Some may disagree with the decision, but for travelers and locals alike, it could mean it will be easier to visit the beautiful and historic site in the future.

“Since its status as a museum is changed, we are canceling the entrance fees,” said Erdogan in a speech on July 10, according to the Anadolu news agency. “Like all our mosques, its doors will be open to everyone — Muslim or non-Muslim. As the world's common heritage, Hagia Sophia with its new status will keep on embracing everyone in a more sincere way.”

Hagia Sophia has served as a Greek Orthodox cathedral, a Roman Catholic cathedral, and an Ottoman mosque over the course of its long history. It was once called the Church of Hagia Sophia and later, the Great Mosque of Ayasofya. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.

UNESCO released a statement expressing that it “deeply regrets the decision of the Turkish authorities, made without prior discussion, and calls for the universal value of World Heritage to be preserved.” Ernesto Ottone, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture, said in the statement, “It is important to avoid any implementing measure, without prior discussion with UNESCO, that would affect physical access to the site, the structure of the buildings, the site’s moveable property, or the site’s management.”

While the site will be opened up for worship and religious services again, tourists will still be able to visit the site and experience its architecture and rich heritage. Ibrahim Kalin, Turkey's presidential spokesperson, said Christian iconography that is part of the site will be preserved despite its new status as a mosque, according to CNN

According to NPR, Hagia Sophia has hosted readings from the Quran “on special occasions,” and has been broadcasting a call to prayer for several years. The decision to turn the site back into a mosque, however, has been met with opposition from leaders across the globe, including from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Hagia Sophia will officially begin regular worship services beginning July 24, according to CNN.