In a televised programme, the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said the Hagia Sophia (also known as Ayasofia) will be called a mosque.
“Hagia Sophia will no longer be called a museum. Its status will change. We will call it a mosque,” said Erdoğan.
Those visiting the famous landmark in Istanbul will now visit it “not as a museum, but as a mosque” he added.
The Hagia Sophia was built as a cathedral in 537 CE during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. When the Ottomans took the city in 1453 under the leadership of Fatih Sultan Mehmet, the Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque. The building was restored and minarets were added by the architect Mimar Sinan.
It remained a mosque for 482 years until 1935 when it was converted into a museum by Mustafa Kamal Ataturk.
Wednesday’s announcement by the president will be a cause for celebration for those in the Muslim-majority country who have been campaigning for it to be converted back into a mosque.
Responding to critics by foreign officials, president Erdoğan said,
“Those who remain silent when Masjid Al Aqsa is attacked, trampled, its windows smashed, cannot tell us what to do about the status of Hagia Sofia”.
The Turkish president said the plan will be discussed after the municipal elections on 31st March.