Istanbul's Hagia Sophia can be reconverted from museum to a mosque, Turkish court rules

Video report by ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine

Turkey's high court has ruled that Istanbul's 6th century Hagia Sophia museum can be re-converted into a mosque. It comes after Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged to reconvert the symbolic world heritage site back to a mosque during an election rally last year.

Dozens gathered outside the court and chanted "Allah is great" as the ruling was announced.

"Like all our mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be wide open to locals and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims," President Erdogan told a press conference.

Hagia Sophia is one of Istanbul’s main tourist attractions Credit: Emrah Gurel/AP

The decision has come under widespread international criticism, including from the United States and Orthodox Christian leaders, who have pointed out the building was used as a Christian place of worship for 900 years and Muslim for only 500 years. It will also deepen tensions with neighbouring Greece, which called on Turkey to maintain the structure's status as a museum.

“Today’s decision, which came as a result of the political will of President Erdogan, is an open provocation to the civilized world which recognises the unique value and ecumenical nature of the monument,” Greek Culture Minister Lina Mendoni said in a written statement.

Some argued the World Heritage Site should remain a museum Credit: Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

The move will likely shore up support for Erdogan amongst his supporters.

The Hagia Sophia was an Eastern Greek Orthodox Cathedral from the time of its construction in 537AD until the Ottomans seized control of Constantinople in the 15th century. In 1935, Turkey’s secular leader Ataturk decided to make the Hagia Sophia a museum and ever since it has been a top tourist attraction.