Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on 27th of March that “the time has come” for the former Basilica of Saint Sophia in Istanbul to become again “a mosque”, considering that its transformation into a museum had been a “very big mistake”.
The museum qualification “will be removed” from the monument’s status, President Erdogan said in an interview on A Haber television. “We will call Ayasofya [the Turkish name of Saint Sophia] a mosque”.
An old basilica from the 6th century
Built in the 6th century at the entrance to the Bosporus Strait and the Golden Horn, this former basilica is where the Byzantine emperors were crowned. This basilica was converted into a mosque in the 15th century, after Constantinople was taken by the Ottomans in 1453.
Transformed into a museum under the secular regime of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in the 1930s, Hagia Sophia is regularly the subject of controversy between Christians and Muslims due to the multiplication of activities related to Islam within it, such as sessions of reading verses from the Quran or collective prayers.
The status of this monument, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and visited by millions of tourists every year, allows believers of all religions to meditate, reflect or simply enjoy its architecture.
“A request” from the Turkish people, according to Erdogan
Mr. Erdogan was campaigning to avoid a punishing vote against his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Sunday’s local elections.
Affirming that “the time has come to take such a step” to change the name of Saint Sophia “given that there is a request” from the Turkish people. He indicated that it would be examined after the election.
This measure could provoke Christian anger and heighten tensions with neighbouring Greece, which has repeatedly expressed its concern about initiatives aimed at questioning the status of Saint Sophia, one of the emblematic places of Istanbul’s Orthodox past.