Hagia Sophia (/ˈhɑːɡiə soʊˈfiːə/; from the Koinē Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία, romanized: Hagía Sophía; Latin: Sancta Sophia or Sancta Sapientia, ‘Holy Wisdom’), officially the Great Mosque of Ayasofya (Turkish: Ayasofya-i Kebir Camii Şerifi), and formerly the Church of Hagia Sophia is a Late Antique place of worship in Istanbul’s capital district of Fatih that has served as a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral, briefly a Roman Catholic cathedral, later an Ottoman mosque, a museum and currently a mosque once again.
Completed in 537 AD, during the reign of the eastern Roman emperor Justinian I, it was then the world’s largest interior space and the first to employ a fully pendentive dome. It is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have “changed the history of architecture”. It is also an important example of the Islamic practice of converting non-Islamic places of worship into mosques, which has led to conflicts and religious strife in several parts of the world.
The reason the Hagia Sophia was chosen as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world was because of its quintessential Byzantine architectural style. It embodies the culture and design of the time it was built (532 AD) as well as including Ottoman influences within its décor and structure.
The Byzantine elements of Hagia Sophia are present in the interior’s grand dome, its massive marble pillars, and the intricate mosaics of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, angels and saints that were uncovered when the building was transformed from a mosque into a museum.
On the main altar, a towering mosaic of Jesus was flanked by two massive disks bearing the Arabic names of Muhammad and Allah in ornate calligraphy.
The museum in an effort to remind visitors of the diverse uses of this sacred space, displayed in tandem both the Christian iconography, from the days when Hagia Sophia was a basilica, and the Islamic iconography, from its days as a mosque
All of the Christian iconography had been covered in whitewash when the building became a mosque. The restoration of the Christian symbols next to the Muslim symbols had created a mesmerizing
effect, particularly because the styles and sensibilities of the two iconographies are polar opposites.
From its initial conversion until the construction in 1616 of the nearby Sultan Ahmed Mosque, aka the Blue Mosque, it was the principal mosque of Istanbul. The Byzantine architecture of the Hagia Sophia served as inspiration for many other Ottoman mosques, including the Blue Mosque, the Şehzade Mosque, the Süleymaniye Mosque, the Rüstem Pasha Mosque and the Kılıç Ali Pasha Complex.
The complex remained a mosque until 1931, when it was closed to the public for four years. It was re-opened in 1935 as a museum by the secular Republic of Turkey. Hagia Sophia was, as of 2014, the second-most visited museum in Turkey, attracting almost 3.3 million visitors annually. According to data released by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Hagia Sophia was Turkey’s most visited tourist attraction in 2015 and 2019.
Turkey’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, on Friday 10th of July, ruled that the government can convert the historically Christian cathedral called Hagia Sophia into a Muslim house of worship. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan immediately took action to reconvert the site into a mosque.
It has long been the hope of many Turkish Muslims for the Hagia Sophia museum to be turned back into a mosque. Immediately after the ruling, dozens of people celebrated outside the Hagia Sophia, chanting “Allah is great!”, according to CBN News.
In its more than 1,400-year existence, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey served as the Byzantine Empire’s main cathedral before being captured and turned into a mosque under the Ottoman Empire. Up until today, it had been a neutral museum, but Turkish President Erdogan had waged a campaign to turn it back into a mosque, despite worldwide opposition to that plan.
The massive structure had been changed from a mosque into a museum by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
“Ataturk established Hagia Sophia as a museum to underline his vision of secularizing Turkey,” says Soner Cagaptay, author of Erdogan’s Empire. “And nearly 100 years later, Erdogan is trying to do the opposite.”
According to Mustafa Akyol, a contributing Opinion writer, and a senior fellow on Islam and modernity at the Cato Institute;
“Hagia Sophia is a reminder that our tradition includes both our everlasting faith and values, as well as a legacy of imperialism. The latter is a bitter fact of history, like Christian imperialism or nationalism, which have targeted our mosques and even lives as well — from Cordoba to Srebrenica. But today, we should try to heal such wounds of the past, not open new ones”.
“So, if we Muslims really want to revive something from the past, let’s focus on the model initiated by the Prophet and implemented by Caliph Umar. That means no shrines should be converted — or reconverted. All religious traditions should be respected. And the magnanimity of tolerance should overcome the pettiness of supremacism”.
The mosque is set to be opened today for Muslim prayer for the first time in 86 years.