Turkey’s top court will deliver a critical verdict Thursday on whether Istanbul’s emblematic landmark and former church Hagia Sophia can be redesignated as a mosque, a ruling which could inflame tensions with the West.
The sixth-century edifice — a magnet for tourists worldwide with its stunning architecture — has been a museum since 1935, open to believers of all faiths.
Despite occasional protests by Islamic groups, often shouting, “Let the chains break and open Hagia Sophia” for Muslim prayers outside the UNESCO world heritage site, authorities have so far kept the building a museum.
The Hagia Sophia was first constructed as a church in the Christian Byzantine Empire in the sixth century but was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453.
Transforming the Hagia Sophia into a museum was a key reform of the post-Ottoman Turkish authorities under the modern republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
But calls for it to serve again as a mosque have raised anger among Christians and tensions between historic foes and uneasy NATO allies Turkey and Greece.
Turkey’s Council of State will deliver a ruling on its status either on the same day or within two weeks, the official Anadolu news agency reported.
Source: National News Agency