21 million flock to see Turkey’s Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque

Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque, a magnificent architectural wonder located in Istanbul, Turkey, has garnered immense popularity among tourists worldwide, with visitors from Arab countries, Central Asia, and the Far East flocking to see this iconic landmark.

After reopening as a place of worship three years ago, this mosque has welcomed an impressive 21 million visitors. The Hagia Sophia has a rich past, having served as a church for 916 years before being converted into a mosque and later a museum. Now, it has returned to its original purpose as a cherished place of worship and a symbol of historical significance.

Converting the Hagia Sophia back to a mosque from a museum

The decision to convert the Hagia Sophia back into a mosque was made on July 24, 2020, following a lawsuit. The Council of Ministers' decision to restore its status as a mosque was upheld, and a grand ceremony marked the historic return of the first Friday prayer in 86 years, attended by the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Increase in visitors following transition back to a mosque

Since the mosque's conversion, there has been a significant increase in visitors, with long queues forming outside its doors. To manage the surge of tourists, the authorities have put organised entry systems and controlled visits in place, particularly during peak times. Visitors from all over the world can visit the mosque from the morning prayer until the night prayer.

Stunning architecture and rich history

Bunyamin Topcuoglu, the Imam of Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque, has shared his insights into the increase in visitors over the years. The mosque's unique blend of Byzantine and Ottoman architecture, along with its rich historical significance, has made it an extremely popular destination for tourists worldwide. The Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque's breathtaking beauty, coupled with its religious importance, makes it a must-visit for anyone travelling to Istanbul.

Topcuoglu said: “In 2021, approximately 1.3 million people visited Hagia Sophia. However, the main influx of visitors started in 2022, with a total of 13.6 million visitors. As of January-June 2023, we have already welcomed 6 million visitors, and this number continues to rise.”

Renowned destination for visitors from all countries

The Hagia Sophia is a renowned destination for travellers from all corners of the world, including Arab countries, Central Asia, and the Far East. Visitors from Indonesia, in particular, often make a point of stopping by the mosque during their transit in Istanbul as part of their Umrah pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina.

In order to maintain a respectful atmosphere at the mosque, visitors are expected to adhere to certain rules and decorum, much like in any place of worship. Dressing appropriately and showing reverence while exploring the mosque's rich heritage are key to ensuring a peaceful and respectful environment.

New programmes breathe life into the Hagia Sophia Mosque

To breathe new life into this historic site, special programs inspired by the Ottoman period have been reintroduced. These include Oil Lamp Nights and Kadir Nights, which have now become a permanent fixture on the mosque's cultural calendar. These events provide a unique opportunity for visitors to experience the rich history and culture of the Hagia Sophia in a truly immersive way.

Topcuoglu further shared that: “We hold very special programs here, including oil lamp programs, Quran recitations before Friday prayers by our huffaz (those who have memorized the Quran by heart), and alternating double calls to prayer between Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. High-participation Mevlid programs are also conducted here.”


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