It has lived life as a museum for over eighty years. Now, Istanbul’s grandest structure is open for prayer.
The decision to lift restrictions on praying within the Hagia Sophia has attracted a considerable amount of attention.
It is now official: the 1,600-year-old structure will once again allow prayers inside after an eighty-six-year hiatus.
The Hagia Sophia started its life as a Byzantium church built-in the 6th century. In 1453, the church was converted into a mosque by the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II who also went by the secondary title of Caesar of the Romans befitting his conquest of the Byzantium Empire.
It remained a mosque until 1934, when, during the premiership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk - Turkey’s leading founding father - the mosque was turned into a museum.
Today, Turkey's highest administrative legal ruling body, the Council of State, has ruled that the 1934 conversion of Istanbul's Hagia Sophia into a museum was unlawful.
According to the legal team who wanted to overturn the 1934 ruling, the structure was the private property of Sultan Mehmed II who converted the structure into an imperial mosque. The structure, the lawyers argued, should not be used against the will of the endower who had bequeathed the structure as a mosque in perpetuity.
What will happen to Hagia Sophia now?
For centuries, the Hagia Sophia has been preserved as an imperial structure and its guardians, the Ottomans, gave it its due when they entered the city in 1453 and made Istanbul their capital.
The Christian iconography has largely remained intact and remains there to this day. The change in status will not impact christian depictions which are part of the legacy of the Hagia Sophia
Through some drawings created in 1680 by a European traveller - who went by the name of Guillaume-Joseph Grelot - epictions of the Hagia Sophia and much of the mosaics and iconography can still be seen.
This will not change.
Will the Hagia Sophia still be open to visitors?
Prayer space and visiting space will be divided, as with all other significant religious sites in Istanbul that ensures the integrity of the building. It will be made available for all.
Will people pay to get inside?
As a museum, there was an entrance fee. Now, as a place of worship, as with so many other places of worship in Turkey, there will no longer be a fee.
Ibrahim Kalin, Turkey’s presidential spokesperson speaking to Anadolu Agency said, “Opening up Hagia Sophia to worship doesn't keep local or foreign tourists from visiting the site” adding “All of our major mosques such as the Blue Mosque, Fatih and Suleymaniye Mosques, they are open to both visitors and worshippers."
What will happen to Gli, the cat who guards the Hagia Sophia
Born in Hagia Sophia in 2004, Gli has made the historic building its home. The cat is so famous that it even has its own Instagram page.
Gli will remain inside the Hagia Sophia as its perfect guest.