NEWS NATIONAL NEWS        10/07/2020

Turkey turns iconic Hagia Sophia museum into mosque

The world-famous Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul, which was originally founded as a cathedral,  has been turned back into a mosque. Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced the decision after a court annulled the site's museum status, and said that the first Muslim prayers would be held inside the building on 24th July. Turkish officials have assured that Christian emblems, including mosaics of the Virgin Mary which adorn its soaring golden dome, will not be removed. Shortly after the announcement, the first call to prayer was recited at Hagia Sophia and was broadcast on all of Turkey's main news channels. The cultural site's social media channels have now been taken down.


Built 1,500 years ago as an Orthodox Christian cathedral, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest in 1453. In 1934 it became a museum and is now a Unesco World Heritage site.


Islamists in Turkey long called for it to be converted back to a mosque but secular opposition members opposed the move. The proposal had prompted criticism from religious and political leaders worldwide. Defending the decision, President Erdogan stressed that the country had exercised its sovereign right in converting it back to a mosque.


Making changes at Hagia Sophia is profoundly symbolic. It was Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, who decreed that it should be a museum. President Erdogan is now taking one more step to dismantle Ataturk's secular legacy, and remould Turkey according to his vision. The Turkish leader, who presents himself as a modern day conqueror, is making no apologies for the change, and says that anyone who does not like it is attacking Turkey's sovereignty.


Reclaiming Hagia Sophia plays well with his base of religious conservatives, and with Turkish nationalists. Critics say he's using the issue to distract attention from the economic damage done here by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, many in the international community argue that the monument belongs to humanity - not to Turkey - and should have remained unchanged. They say it was a bridge between two faiths, and a symbol of co-existence.


Unesco, which had urged Turkey not to change its status without discussion, has said that it "deeply regrets" the decision to turn the museum into a mosque and called on the Turkish authorities to "open a dialogue without delay." The head of the Eastern Orthodox Church has condemned the move, as has Greece, home to many millions of Orthodox followers, with the Culture Minister Lina Mendoni saying that it was an "open provocation to the civilised world".

The Church in Russia, home to the world's largest Orthodox Christian community, expressed regret that the Turkish court had not taken its concerns into account when ruling on Hagia Sophia, and that the decision could lead to even greater divisions


While the move is popular with conservative religious supporters of President Erdogan, Turkey's most famous author, Orhan Pamuk said the decision would take away the "pride" some Turks had in being a secular Muslim nation. In a comment given to the BBC, he said that "There are millions of secular Turks like me who are crying against this but their voices are not heard."


The entry from is as follows:


“Hagia Sophia  is a historic house of worship located in Istanbul that has served as a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral, a Roman Catholic cathedral, an Ottoman mosque, and a secular museum. Built in AD 537, during the reign of the Roman emperor Justinian I, it was then the world's largest interior space and the first to employ a fully pendentive dome. It is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have "changed the history of architecture".


Built as the cathedral church of Constantinople between 532 and 537 on the orders of the Roman emperor Justinian I, the basilica was designed by the Greek geometers Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles. The present Justinianic building was the third church of the same name to occupy the site, the prior one having been destroyed in the Nika riots. Episcopal see of the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, it remained the world's largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years, until Seville Cathedral was completed in 1520. In 1204, it was converted by the Fourth Crusaders to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire, before being restored to an Orthodox cathedral upon the return of the Byzantine Empire in 1261. After the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453, it was converted to a mosque. In 1935, it was secularised into a museum. In July of 2020, a Turkish court ruling revoked the monument's status as a museum and a subsequent decree of the President of Turkey ordered the reclassification of Hagia Sophia as a mosque.


The church was dedicated to the Wisdom of God, the Logos, the second person of the Trinity, its patronal feast taking place on 25 December (Christmas), the commemoration of the birth of the incarnation of the Logos in Christ. The church housed a large collection of relics and featured a 15-metre (49 ft) silver iconostasis. The centre of the Eastern Orthodox Church for nearly one thousand years, the building witnessed the excommunication of Patriarch Michael I Cerularius, officially delivered by Humbert of Silva Candida, the papal envoy of Pope Leo IX in 1054, an act that is commonly considered the start of the East-West Schism. The doge of Venice who led the Fourth Crusade and the 1204 Sack of Constantinople, Enrico Dandolo, was buried in the church.


In 1453, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Empire under Mehmed the Conqueror, who ordered the cathedral converted into a mosque. The patriarchate moved to the Church of the Holy Apostles, which became the city's cathedral. Although some parts of the city of Constantinople had fallen into disrepair, the cathedral had been maintained with funds set aside for this purpose, and the Christian cathedral made a strong impression on the new Ottoman rulers who conceived its conversion. The bells, altar, iconostasis, ambo and baptistery were removed and relics destroyed. The mosaics depicting Jesus, his mother Mary, Christian saints, and angels were eventually destroyed or plastered over. Islamic architectural features were added, such as a minbar (pulpit), four minarets, and a mihrab – a niche indicating the direction of prayer. Four minarets were added. From its initial conversion until the construction of the nearby Sultan Ahmed Mosque, aka the Blue Mosque of Istanbul, in 1616, it was the principal mosque of Istanbul. The Byzantine architecture of the Hagia Sophia served as inspiration for many other Ottoman mosques, including the Blue Mosque, the Şehzade Mosque, the Süleymaniye Mosque, the Rüştem Pasha Mosque and the Kiliç Ali Pasha Complex.


Hagia Sophia remained a mosque until 1931, when it was closed to the public for four years. It was re-opened in 1935 as a museum by the secular Republic of Turkey. Hagia Sophia was, as of 2014, the second-most visited museum in Turkey, attracting almost 3.3 million visitors annually. According to data released by the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry, Hagia Sophia was Turkey's most visited tourist attraction in 2015 and 2019. The complex is to revert back to a mosque by late July 2020 after the Council of State annulled its use as a museum.”

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