Home #WHERETONEXT Europe Hagia Sophia Mosque and Hagia Sophia Museum

Hagia Sophia Mosque and Hagia Sophia Museum

Photo by Lewis J Goetz

The Hagia Sophia, located in Istanbul, Turkey, is an iconic structure that has been at the center of religious and political conflict for centuries. Once a Christian cathedral, it was converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, and then into a museum in 1935. However, in 2020, it was again converted into a mosque, sparking controversy and debate around the world.

History of Hagia Sophia

Christian Cathedral

The Hagia Sophia was originally built in 537 CE as a Christian cathedral by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. It was the largest cathedral in the world at the time and remained the largest for almost a thousand years.

Ottoman Mosque

In 1453, after the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople, the Hagia Sophia Mosque was converted into a mosque. The Ottomans added minarets and other Islamic architectural elements, and it remained a mosque for almost 500 years.


In 1935, the newly formed Turkish Republic, led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, converted the Hagia Sophia museum. The building was opened to the public as a secular museum, and both Christian and Islamic elements were preserved.

Mosque Again

In July 2020, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that the Hagia Sophia would be converted back into a mosque. This decision was met with mixed reactions from around the world, with some seeing it as a step towards Islamic nationalism and others as a restoration of Turkey’s cultural heritage.

Architecture and Art


The most striking feature of the Hagia Sophia is its massive dome, which spans over 100 feet in diameter and rises over 180 feet from the ground. The dome is supported by four piers and arches, which allow for an unobstructed view of the interior.


The interior of the Hagia Sophia is decorated with stunning mosaics and frescoes, many of which date back to the Christian period of the building’s history. These mosaics depict scenes from the Bible and the lives of the saints.


After the mosque conversion, many of the Christian mosaics were covered up or destroyed. However, Islamic calligraphy was added to the interior, including verses from the Quran and the names of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions.

Controversy and Debate

Religious Significance

The Hagia Sophia is a symbol of both Christian and Islamic religious traditions, and the decision to convert it into a mosque again has sparked controversy and debate around the world. Some see it as a victory for Islamic nationalism, while others argue that it is a step backwards for religious tolerance and coexistence.

Cultural Heritage

The Hagia Sophia is also a significant cultural heritage site, and its preservation is important for future generations. Some argue that the conversion into a mosque will restrict access to the building and limit its ability to be appreciated by people of all faiths and backgrounds.

Political Implications

The decision to convert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque again has political implications both within Turkey and internationally. It has been seen by some as a move towards conservative Islamism and a consolidation of power by President Erdogan.


The Hagia Sophia is a unique and significant structure that has played an important role in both Christian and Islamic history. Its conversion from a museum back into a mosque has sparked controversy and debate around the world. However, regardless of its religious or political significance, the Hagia Sophia remains an architectural and artistic masterpiece that should be preserved and appreciated for its historical and cultural significance.