Hagia Sophia Over the Years: Why Erdogan’s Move Upset Christians

·3-min read

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

Originally built a Cathedral, converted to a Mosque, secularised and turned into a museum and re-designated a mosque – Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey, is back in news over its recent change of status.

The magnificent structure, also known as ‘Ayasofya’ in Turkish, made headlines as Muslims offered their first prayers in it after 86 years led by President Tayyip Erdogan.

Recently, a Turkish court annulled its status as a museum, paving way for President Erdogan to reverse Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's decree by designating Hagia Sophia a mosque again.

“Like all our mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be open to all, locals and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims,” said Erdogan after praying inside the structure along with many others.

Prayers being held inside Hagia Sophia
Prayers being held inside Hagia Sophia

The move has upset Christians and sparked outrage in Greece and Russia. In Vatican, Pope Francis also expressed dismay, saying he was “distressed”.

Interiors of Hagia Sophia
Interiors of Hagia Sophia

We look back at the rich history of the 1500-year-old architectural marvel.

360 AD: The First Hagia Sophia

Byzantine Emperor Constantius II commissioned the construction of the structure in Constantinople or modern day Istanbul.

However, the structure with a wooden roof was burnt to ground in 404 AD.

Mosaic of Christ and mother on the walls of Hagia sophia
Mosaic of Christ and mother on the walls of Hagia sophia

415 AD: The Second Hagia Sophia

Emperor Theodosius II, rebuilt the Hagia Sophia and the new structure was completed in 415 AD.

It was however, again burned a second time during the ‘Nika Revolts' against Byzantine Emperor Justinian I.

Mosaic of Mother Mary on the dome inside Hagia Sophia.
Mosaic of Mother Mary on the dome inside Hagia Sophia.

537 AD: The Third Hagia Sophia

A cathedral was finally built under the direction of Justinian I. The magnificent structure was commissioned and built remarkably within a short span of six years.

The dome from inside the Hagia Sophia.
The dome from inside the Hagia Sophia.

1453: Hagia Sophia, the Mosque

The building was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople by Emperor Fatih Sultan Mehmed. The Ottomans renamed the city Istanbul.

Later, typical Islamic minarets, a mihrab, and a minbar were added to the monument.

Hagia Sophia with Islamic scriptures written on the dome
Hagia Sophia with Islamic scriptures written on the dome
Element of mosque’s inside Hagia Sophia
Element of mosque’s inside Hagia Sophia

1935: Hagia Sophia, the Museum

With the end of the Ottoman empire, Turkey was declared a republic on 29 October 1923, when Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the independent Republic of Turkey and became Turkey’s first president.

In 1934, Atatürk, also known and the ‘Father of Turks’, turned the building into a museum in a bid to secularise Turkey.

Symbols of both Islam and Christianity inside Hagia Sophia.
Symbols of both Islam and Christianity inside Hagia Sophia.
The interiors of Hagia Sophia.
The interiors of Hagia Sophia.

Even 100 years after the fall of the Ottoman empire, Hagia Sophia continues to play a crucial role in both religion and politics.

Touted to be “the greatest dream of youth” by Erdogan on designating it a mosque, Hagia Sophia has invited controversy as the World Council of Churches called on the Turkish president to reverse the decision.

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