[Places in News] Hagia Sophia Museum: Turkey


  • Turkey’s highest court convened to decide whether Istanbul’s iconic Hagia Sophia museum can be turned into a mosque.

Back to Basics

About the Hagia Sophia

  • The 1,500-year-old structure, listed as a Unesco World Heritage site, was originally a cathedral before it was turned into a mosque.
  • In the 1930s, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, shut down the mosque and turned it into a museum in an attempt to make the country more secular.
  • There have been calls for long from Islamist groups and nationalists in the country to convert the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque.
  • The construction of this iconic structure in Istanbul started in 532 AD during the reign of Justinian I, the ruler of the Byzantine Empire, when the city was known as Constantinople.
  • The structure was originally built to become the seat of the Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church and remained so for approximately 900 years.
  • In 1453, when Constantinople fell to Sultan Mehmet II’s Ottoman forces, the Hagia Sophia was ransacked by the invading forces and turned into a mosque shortly after.
  • The structure of the monument was then subjected to several interior and exterior changes where Orthodox symbols were removed or plastered upon and minarets were added to the exterior of the structure. For a long time, the Hagia Sophia was Istanbul’s most important mosque.
  • In 1934, Atartuk ordered that the Hagia Sophia be converted into a museum. It opened to the public in 1935.

Facts to Know:

  • Greece’s Foreign Ministry had issued a statement saying this move was a violation of UNESCO’s ‘Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage’.
  • Greece had said the Hagia Sophia had “been designated a museum of world cultural heritage and is currently being used to promote other purposes”.

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