The Hagia Sophia is a major historical monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Istanbul, Turkey. The sixth-century architectural masterpiece is famous for reflecting the various religious changes the Mediterranean region faced over the years. Originally built to serve as a cathedral, the Hagia Sophia was later converted into a mosque, then a museum, and then back to a mosque.
In 537 A.D., the Hagia Sophia was originally built to become the world’s largest cathedral under the Greek Orthodox Christian Church. It was considered one of the finest architectural monuments under the Byzantine Empire and included mosaics of Christian art made from gold, silver, and colorful stones. It also incorporated structural pieces from every province ruled under the empire.
A millennium later, the Byzantine Empire was triumphed by the Ottomans in the 15th century. Because Islam was the Ottoman Empire’s main religion, the Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque where Muslims could pray. Its original Christian art was then covered up and Islamic calligraphy was displayed instead. Four slim columns, which are traditional features of a mosque, were also added to surround the building outside. The monument lasted as a mosque for the next 500 years.
In 1928, Turkey became a secular state, and the mosque was soon converted into a museum. During this time, Christian art was uncovered and allowed to coexist next to the Ottoman’s Islamic art.
In 2020, a controversial decision was made by the state of Turkey. The Hagia Sophia was converted back to a mosque. The decision was met with much scrutiny as protestors argued the landmark was rightfully a Christian church. Nonetheless, the Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque and Muslims were able to worship at the monument again.
The Hagia Sophia is considered one of Istanbul’s most historical artifacts. While the building now serves as a Muslim house of worship, the 1,500-year-old landmark still attracts millions of tourists a year.