The Council of State revoked the Cabinet's 1934 decision to create the museum, removing the monument's status, in early July 2020, and a following proclamation by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the categorization of Hagia Sophia as a mosque. The move was widely seen as a political gesture toward his Islamic conservative base ahead of elections in November.
In its ruling, the council said that "based on the facts and documents presented," it is concluded that the decision taken by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism on 4 July 1934 regarding the Hagia Sophia monument cannot be applied in practice because this decision violates the rights protected by law.
Hagia Sophia has been used for purposes other than worship since the fall of the Ottoman Empire. In 1920, Turkey's Western-oriented government made the decision to convert the building into a church free of charge. However, financial difficulties prevented this from happening. In December 1922, the Ecumenical Patriarch sent a team to Istanbul to begin work on converting the building into a Christian church. But due to the ongoing civil war, no further action was taken on this project. In 1923, the Catholic Church took control of the building after Emperor Frederick II was exiled by the Turkish government. But due to financial problems, they were unable to restore the structure.
In 1934, the government decided to make the building a museum without an explicit statement about its religious affiliation.
Originally built as a Christian Orthodox cathedral and used for centuries, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque by the Ottomans following their conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey's secularist leader, proclaimed it a museum in 1934. Today, it is a museum full of art treasures.
Built between 672 and 685 as part of the Byzantine Empire's new capital city on the site now known as Istanbul, St. Sophia was originally named "The Holy Wisdom" and was dedicated to the glory of God. Over time, it came to be regarded as one of the most important churches in the world. In 1453, when the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, they converted the church into a mosque because they believed that doing so would bring peace to their empire.
During its years as a mosque, St. Sophia was completely remodeled on several occasions. The last major renovation was completed in 1844 under Sultan Abdülmecid I. The work cost approximately $1 million ($12.5 million in today's dollars) and was paid for using tax revenues from throughout the empire. The result was an elegant building with pure Turkish design elements containing some of the finest works of art of the era. It remains one of the largest synagogues in Europe today.
Under Mr. Erdogan's leadership, Hagia Sophia will be the fourth Byzantine church museum to be renovated as a mosque, but by far the most significant. The iconic Chora monastery church in Istanbul had its museum classification withdrawn in November. It will now become Turkey's first major religious site under the control of a single mosque.
The decision was seen as a blow to Christians who make up about 1% of Turkey's 75 million people. Critics say it violates the country's constitution which guarantees its citizens freedom of religion.
Hagia Sophia was built from 662 to 668 as the main cathedral of Constantinople. It is considered one of the most important buildings in the history of architecture. The building served as a mosque for more than 300 years after it was abandoned by the Christian community in 1453. In 1960, it was opened as a museum.
In October 2016, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced plans to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque. He also said that a new complex would be built instead of keeping the existing structure as a museum. The government has yet to announce any plan for the site after this announcement.
It had a crucial role in the Ottoman Empire's heart. Turkish President Kemal Ataturk secularized the Hagia Sophia in 1934, and it was turned into a museum in 1935. The Byzantine architecture of Hagia Sophia inspired numerous later Ottoman mosques, including Istanbul's Blue Mosque.
The building of the Hagia Sophia was also an experiment in imperial power: how to build a church large enough and beautiful enough to be seen from far away? The answer was that you did not need to hire any architects or builders; instead, you hired artists - many of them slaves - who would do your bidding by drawing pictures of what you wanted.
The result is a fascinating fusion of styles, with architectural details borrowed from ancient Greece, Egypt, and Rome. Its creator, the great Turkish architect Orhan Gencebay, was so successful in combining these elements into one harmonious whole that he is still considered one of the founders of modern architecture.
The building of the Hagia Sophia was also an exercise in political symbolism. When Emperor Justinian rebuilt the church after its destruction in 572 AD, he wanted to show the world that his empire was back on its feet again after years of war. He also wanted to demonstrate to Christians and Muslims alike that they were equals before God.
Finally, the Hagia Sophia is important because it was once one of the largest buildings in the world.