Jul 11, 2020 05:29 UTC
  • Turkey’s Erdogan says museum Hagia Sophia to change back to mosque

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced that the UNESCO World Heritage site Hagia Sophia would be handed over to Turkey's religious affairs directorate and reopened for Muslim worshiping.

Erdogan's Friday announcement comes shortly after a top Turkish court revoked the sixth-century Hagia Sophia's status as a museum, clearing the way for it to be turned back into a mosque.

The Council of State, the country's highest administrative court, which on July 2 debated a case brought by a Turkish NGO, cancelled a 1934 cabinet decision and ruled that the UNESCO World Heritage site be reopened to Muslim worshiping.

The sixth-century Istanbul building — a magnet for tourists — has been a museum since 1935, open to believers of all faiths thanks to a cabinet decision stamped by modern Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.

Transforming it into a museum was a key reform of the officially secular republic.

Calls for it to serve again as a mosque have led to anger among Christians and exacerbated tensions between historic foes Turkey and Greece, which closely monitors Byzantine heritage in Turkey.

Ahead of the court decision, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul shared a picture of Hagia Sophia on his official Twitter account, with a message: "Have good Friday."