Mosque instead of museum? Turkey wants to dedicate Hagia Sophia in Istanbul

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In Turkey, Hagia Sophia has become a political issue: the question is whether the building can be converted into a mosque. The USA has now also intervened.

The US government has spoken out against the rededication of the famous Hagia Sophia in Istanbul from a museum to a mosque. The United States has urged the Turkish government to ensure that Hagia Sophia remains accessible to all, said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday. The government in Ankara must continue to maintain Hagia Sophia as a prime example of its commitment to respecting the country’s religious traditions and diverse history.

Unesco World Heritage Site since 1985

The status of the building is a political issue in Turkey. The country’s Supreme Administrative Court is considering Thursday whether Hagia Sophia can be turned back into a mosque. A decision about the former church, which is now a museum, could be made by the court either on the same day or within 15 days, according to the state news agency Anadolu.

Hagia Sophia (Greek: Holy Wisdom), built in the 6th century AD, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985 as part of Istanbul’s old town. For almost a millennium it was the largest church in Christendom and the main church of the Byzantine Empire, where the emperors were crowned. After Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans in 1453, Sultan Mehmet II (“The Conqueror”) converted Hagia Sophia into a mosque and added four minarets as an external feature. At the instigation of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, the Council of Ministers ordered the conversion into a museum in 1934.

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