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Turkey: Mystery Surrounds Decision to Turn Byzantine Church Museum into a Mosque

The Hagia Sophia in the lakeside town of Iznik was recently turned into a mosque again after serving for more than 80 years as a museum. (Photo: Jonathan Lewis)

In its 1,700-year-old history, Hagia Sophia in the northwestern town of Iznik has witnessed many turning points. In 787, as a Byzantine church, it housed the Second Council of Nicaea, which restored the veneration of icons to Christianity. After the Ottoman conquest of the area, Hagia Sophia in 1331 was turned into a mosque, only to be destroyed in 1922 by the Greek army during the Greco-Turkish War.

Then, this November 6, the building, a museum and popular Iznik tourist destination, underwent its latest transformation: It officially reopened as a mosque.

The first call to prayer had resounded from its minaret five days earlier, on the evening of November 1. With a new wooden floor, carpets and a sound system for the minaret, Hagia Sophia was opened to Muslim worshippers during Kurban Bayrami, the Festival of Sacrifice, a four-day Islamic holiday that commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, at God’s command.

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Constanze Letsch is a freelance writer based in Istanbul.

Turkey: Mystery Surrounds Decision to Turn Byzantine Church Museum into a Mosque

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