Hagia Sophia: Pope Francis “very saddened” as Turkey converts the museum into a mosque

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“The sea takes my thinking a bit far, to Istanbul,” said the pontiff during the prayer, which commemorates the people who work at sea.

Since a Cabinet decree in 1934, the iconic building in Istanbul has served as a museum, but on Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issued a presidential decree to transfer the management of the building from the Ministry of Culture to the Presidency of Religious Affairs .

The order follows an earlier decision by a Turkish court that quashed the decades-old ministerial decree.

Hagia Sophia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the group says it deeply regrets Turkey’s decision.

“Hagia Sophia is an architectural masterpiece and a unique testimony to the interactions between Europe and Asia over the centuries,” said Director General Audrey Azoulay.

“Its status as a museum reflects the universal character of its heritage and makes it a powerful symbol of dialogue. ”

Greece and France have also questioned the secularism of Turkey.

The history of the iconic building dates back to the Byzantine Empire in the 6th century, when it was built as a cathedral. In the 15th century, it became a mosque.

With Islam banning the display of images of people in mosques, officials plan to use lights and curtains to cover the many Byzantine Christian mosaics in Hagia Sophia, Ali Erbaş, official on Sunday, said on Turkish television religious affairs of Turkey.

After the prayer, the paintings will be discovered again for the visitors. Entrance fees will also be waived, said President Erdoğan.

“Like all our mosques, its doors will be open to everyone – Muslim or non-Muslim,” said Erdoğan.

“As a common heritage of the world, Hagia Sophia, with its new status, will continue to embrace everyone more sincerely. “

CNN Sharif Paget, Murat Baykara, Isil Sariyuce, Livia Borghese and Zahid Mahmood contributed to this report.

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