Transformation of World Famous Cathedral — Hagia Sophia Won’t Affect Turkish Tourism

Responsible for the employment of millions and accountable for nearly 10 percent of the economy, Turkish tourism has brought home tens of billions of dollars every year. Travel restrictions in April and May had severed the functioning of the tourism industry, leading to arrival of only 54,000 foreigners against the 7.3 million that came in 2019.

The announcement of Hagia Sophia’s transformation into a mosque has led to some confusion among people about the future of Turkish tourism as the museum attracted nearly 4 million tourists last year. The news was released by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 10. He claimed that Istanbul’s iconic beauty will be opened to Muslim worshippers on July 24.

Built during the Byzantine Empire, the church had been transformed into a mosque post the Ottomon conquest of Istanbul in 1453. Later it became a museum under the secularisation drive by Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Hagia Sophia’s transformation into a mosque is against the orthodox Islamic thought as the presence of Byzantine mosaics and frescoes raises questions of it being used as a prayer spot. Over the years, the Byzantine artworks have suffered damage due to earthquakes and the 1203 Sack of Constaninople by the Latin Crusaders. For promoting Turkish tourism, authorities have pledged to maintain the artworks even after Hagia Sophia’s transformation into a mosque.

Just like the neighbouring Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia will welcome tourists of all faiths and none. Besides the hours reserved for communal prayers, tourists can visit the mosque free of cost at any time. Also, against the former practise of covering the icons with plaster, lasers could be used to cover their faces so that prayers can be performed.

Now that Turkey is welcoming visitors from all countries, you can witness the beauty of Hagia Sophia live. On your visit to the mosque you must dress modestly, wearing headscarves and skirts. At the museum you will see Koran verse in the dome and calligraphy panels with Islamic names on the corners.

There is a special column in the museum famous for its healing features. It is located on the northwest side of the entrance with its bronze coverage in the middle. A hole in the column consistently sweats. People believe this water to be the tears of Maryam having healing powers. Rubbing this water on aching body parts is said to heal the pain.

In order to boost Turkish tourism, the authorities have allowed the opening of hotels, restaurants and cafes too. Special “Safe Tourism Certification” have been granted to 180 hotels which are prioritising customer and employee safety based on the health and hygiene requirements listed by the government. Although tourist spots and hotels are now welcoming visitors, local operators claim that arrivals are 10 percent less than last year’s figures.

Another step taken to encourage travellers is the introduction of the “Covid-19 tourist protection insurance” that can be bought online at travel agencies and airports. Under this insurance cover, anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 can stay out the rest of the trip without any charges. So if you are planning for a future trip, a visit to Turkey must surely be on your bucket list.