Hagia Sophia has been a museum since 1935.
Hagia Sophia has been a museum since 1935. Image: Nserrano Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0

UNESCO expresses regret on Hagia Sophia

The Turkish authorities had made a decision re-institutionalise the UNESCO World Heritage as a mosque after being turned into a museum in 1935. Hagia Sophia has served as a  Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral, catholic cathedral, an Ottoman mosque. The decision was taken without prior notice to UNESCO, a move that is being seen as undermining the will of the stakeholders of this unique site.

States have an obligation to ensure that modifications do not affect the Outstanding Universal Value of inscribed sites on their territories. UNESCO must be given prior notice of the same. If necessary they are examined by the World Heritage Committee.

“It is important to avoid any implementing measure, without prior discussion with UNESCO, that would affect physical access to the site, the structure of the buildings, the site’s moveable property, or the site’s management,” stressed Ernesto Ottone, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture. Such measures could constitute breaches of the rules derived from the 1972 World Heritage Convention.

Motifs and symbols from Pagan belief, Christianity and Islam coexist at Hagia Sophia making it a truly unique space for interaction between European and Asian cultures and Faiths. Its grandeur, multiple layers of heritage takes its visitors on a journey through its history of nearly 1700 years.

It was converted into a museum by Ataturk under his modernisation drive for Turkey. Known as the ‘Father of Modern Turkey’ he is credited with many making the Turkish society more progressive.

Read the full statement from UNESCO here.