Currently a UNESCO World Heritage Site and museum, Turkey’s president has vowed to make the Hagia Sophia a mosque once again.
Completed in 537 A.D, the Hagia Sophia was the focal point of the Eastern Orthodox Church for nearly a millennia before Constantinople fell to Muslim conquest in 1453, where it was made into a mosque.
In 1935, the Hagia Sophia was designated a museum, what Turkish President Recep Erdogan calls a “very big mistake.” Erdogan said the Hagia Sophia, meaning Holy Wisdom in Greek, would once again be a mosque.
“Hagia Sophia will not be called a museum. It will be taken out of that status. We will call Hagia Sophia a mosque. And those who will come to Hagia Sophia, they will visit it as a mosque, not as a museum.”
Campaigning for votes ahead of Turkey’s local elections that took place last Sunday, Erdogan said the move is “our people’s expectation, and that of the Muslim world.”
“This is not unlikely. We think the time has come to take such a step given there is a demand. It is not a strange proposal and we might even change its name to Ayasofya Mosque.”
Erdogan also said “serious architectural interventions must be made” to the entrance and floors of the nearly 1500 year old building to accommodate visitors.
Erdogan’s comments were condemned by The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom and drew criticism from Greek Foreign Minister George Katrougalos:
“It belongs to humanity. It has been recognized by UNESCO as part of our global cultural heritage. Any questioning of this status is not just an insult to the sentiments of Christians, it is an insult to the international community and international law.”
Any plan to change the status of the Hagia Sophia would have to be submitted to a UNESCO committee in order to proceed:
“Decisions concerning the implementation of the Convention on the Protection of the World Cultural Heritage are taken by the World Heritage Committee. If a country has signed on to the Convention and wants to change the name of a monument, it will have to submit its proposal for approval to the committee. UNESCO is preparing for the work of the committee but can not predict its decisions in any way.”