Hagia Sophia, the UNESCO World Heritage site in Istanbul that has been a museum since 1934, is now a mosque. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has signed a presidential decree turning the hugely symbolic site back into a Muslim house of worship almost immediately after the ruling was announced. On Friday, Turkey’s highest administrative court, the council of state, paved the way for the move after it ruled unanimously to annul a 1934 cabinet decree that stripped the 1,500-year-old building of its religious status.
Meanwhile, the World Council of Churches has called on Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reverse his decision to turn the celebrated Hagia Sophia museum back into a mosque. The Geneva-based World Council of Churches says it represents more than 500 million Christians.
UNESCO announced also that its World Heritage Committee would review Hagia Sophia‘s status after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan declared the Istanbul monument a mosque. “It is regrettable that the Turkish decision was not the subject of dialogue or notification beforehand,” the United Nation’s cultural body said in a statement. “UNESCO calls on the Turkish authorities to open a dialogue without delay in order to avoid a step back from the universal value of this exceptional heritage whose preservation will be reviewed by the World Heritage Committee in its next session,” it said.
Built in AD 537, during the reign of Justinian, Hagia Sophia was the world’s largest building and an engineering marvel of its time. It was Cathedral till 1453 and once the city fell to Ottoman conquest the building was converted into an Ottoman mosque. In 1935, some secular minds converted it into a museum and has remained so since then. Following the building’s conversion into a mosque in 1453, many of its mosaics were covered with plaster, due to Islam’s ban on representational imagery.