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Protesters Pray For Turkey's Hagia Sophia to Become a Mosque

Thousands of Muslim worshipers gathering at the famed Hagia Sophia museum Saturday hope it will again be a mosque.
Image: Protesting for Hagia sophia to become a mosque again.
Protesters pray in front of the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul, Turkey, early on May 31. ERDEM SAHIN / EPA

Protesters pray in front of the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul, Turkey, early Saturday, to show their desire that it be turned into a mosque.

It has served as the exalted seat of two faiths since its vast dome and lustrous gold mosaics first levitated above Istanbul in the 6th Century: Christendom's greatest cathedral for 900 years and one of Islam's greatest mosques for another 500.

Today, the Hagia Sophia, or Ayasofya in Turkish, is officially a museum: Turkey's most-visited monument, whose formally neutral status symbolizes the secular nature of the modern Turkish state.

But tens of thousands of Muslim worshipers gathering there on Saturday hope it will again be a mosque — a dream they believe Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan can fulfill.

There are even rumors — denied by the government — that Erdogan, a religious conservative who is seeking the presidency at an election in August, could lead prayers there one day soon.

Built in 537 by Byzantine Emperor Justinian whose rule stretched from Spain to the Middle East, Hagia Sophia — meaning "Divine Wisdom" in Greek — was unrivaled in the Christian world until Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II conquered the city in 1453 and turned it into a mosque. Modern Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, decreed it a museum in 1934.

— Reuters