Turkey’s High Court ruled this week that the former Greek Orthodox church of Hagia Sophia in the heart of Istanbul cannot be used as a mosque and will remain a museum.
Constructed between 532 and 537 on the orders of Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, the church was formerly the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and is one of Turkey’s main tourist attractions.
The Turkish high court rejected a petition filed by a local NGO three years ago requesting that Muslim prayers and readings from the Quran be allowed in Hagia Sophia, which has since 1935 operated as a museum.
The request was tabled by the Turkish Union of the Service of Permanent Vakifs (properties endowed to religious institutions) of Historic Monuments and the Environment, which had also called on the country’s prime minister, the Council of State, and the Constitutional Court to take legal action that would establish the Hagia Sophia as a mosque.
All petitions by the Turkish heritage association have been turned down.
The Greek Orthodox church was converted into a mosque in 1453, when Ottoman forces conquered the city known then as Constantinople, adding Islamic minarets. In the mid-1930s, the Kemal Ataturk government converted it to a museum.
The Hagia Sophia, which means Church of Divine Wisdom in Greek, is an important part of Greek heritage. At the same time, it is considered one of the world’s greatest Byzantine monuments, its mosaics offering insight into mosaic art.
The Hagia Sophia is designated as an UNESCO World Heritage site together with the Historic Areas of Istanbul.