It was an iconic moment in Istanbul and Turkey’s history when Hagia Sophia left behind its status as a museum and was restored to its former glory as Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque on July 24, 2020.
In a year marked with restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic, it managed to remain as popular as ever. From Turks from all around the country to tourists, it received more than 3 million visitors, officials say.
Mustafa Yavuz, acting mufti of the city where landmark ancient mosques dot the skyline, like Hagia Sophia’s neighbor Blue Mosque, says he believes this number will increase further, with the end of flight bans by other countries. Locals already show immense interest in the historic structure, especially after all curfews and most other pandemic restrictions were lifted July 1.
The iconic monument served as a church for 916 years until the conquest of Istanbul. It then served as a mosque from 1453 to 1934 – nearly 500 years – and most recently as a museum for 86 years. One of the most visited historic buildings in Turkey by domestic and international tourists, Hagia Sophia was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985.
On July 10, 2020, a Turkish court annulled a 1934 Cabinet decree that had turned Hagia Sophia into a museum, paving the way for its use again as a mosque after the 86-year hiatus.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and a huge crowd overflowing into the nearby streets attended the inauguration of Hagia Sophia as a mosque again. The Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), of which Istanbul Muftiate is a subsidiary and is responsible for overseeing religious services at the mosque, covered Hagia Sophia with carpets for prayers of Muslim faithful. The mosque is open to people of other faiths as well.